Things to Do

Meshell Ndegeocello on Fugazi, Go-Go, and Growing Up in DC

The Duke Ellington grad recalls life in her hometown.

Catch Meshell Ndegeocello at the Kennedy Center on April 26. Photograph by Charlie Gross.

Meshell Ndegeocello grew up just outside Washington, and the unclassifiable musician’s new album, Ventriloquism, has its roots in the city. After her father died in September 2016, she found herself back in her childhood room, listening to old tunes. That experience inspired the emotional collection of ’80s and ’90s R&B covers—songs like Al B. Sure!’s “Nite and Day” and Sade’s “Smooth Operator.” As she returns to DC for this performance ($55), the singer shares some musical memories.

Discovering New Music

“DC for me is go-go, it’s Fugazi, it’s Bad Brains. I listened to DC101, WOL, WPGC, WHUR—‘The Quiet Storm’ was my favorite nighttime experience. I remember going to Kemp Mill Records a lot. There was [a record store] up in Silver Spring, Vinyl Ink. That was a good one.”

Favorite DC Concerts

“I was in the audience at Breeze’s Metro Club for that [classic 1986] Rare Essence live recording. I saw Parliament-Funkadelic in 1976. One of the greatest shows of my lifetime. The Capital Centre is where I saw Prince for the first time. Life-changing!”

Attending Duke Ellington School of the Arts

“I was a quiet kid, and it was pretty mellow. I thought I wanted to be a visual artist, and it’s there that I realized I’m a musician. I felt safe being who I was, and I was surrounded with materials and an environment that fed my mind and made me want to pursue a creative life.”

Playing Bass in ’80s Go-Go Bands

“It made me a much better musician. You have to be in tune with the audience. Rare Essence was my favorite band, and their bass player truly inspired me. He’s one of the first people to give me pointers. To me, you can only experience go-go live. Very few recordings truly [capture] how it feels to be in that room with sweaty bodies moving to the music. There’s nothing like that feeling.”

Meshell Ndegeocello will perform at the Kennedy Center on April 26. Tickets start at $55.

This article appeared in the April 2018 issue of Washingtonian.

Politics and Culture Editor

Rob Brunner grew up in DC and moved back in 2017 to join Washingtonian. Previously, he was an editor and writer at Fast Company and other publications. He lives with his family in Chevy Chase DC.