American singer-songwriter and bassist Meshell Ndegeocello spoke about her experiences as a black artist and her search for musical truth at the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts on Oct. 3. The event was part of the Provost Lecture Series.
Ndegeocello, 51, was born in Berlin and raised in Washington, D.C. Her father was a saxophonist in the military band.
“My father played [and] practiced all the time in the military, so I grew up hearing music,” Ndegeocello said. “My ears are everything to me. I hope that, when we evolve as a species, we have no eyes.”
Ndegeocello acknowledged that she has trouble connecting with other people because of childhood loneliness and her limited interactions with her parents while she was growing up. She found she was socially unprepared for blatant racism when she entered college, and recalled becoming discouraged.
“It was heartbreaking how the light-skinned people treated dark-skinned people and vice versa,” Ndegeocello said. “I didn’t have a lot of friends, and my mother had severe mental illness. … The thing that lifted me up was my ability to make music.”
Ndegeocello’s love for music helped reshape her relationship with her parents. After traveling around the world and encountering various cultures and stories, she realized that she could not judge her parents because she lacked a full understanding of their stories.
“It’s the travel and meeting people that has taught me what I know,” she noted.
Through recounting her travels, Ndegeocello contemplated what it means to be a person of color in the United States and what she can offer her children’s generation. Regardless of fame and money, Ndegeocello said her primary goal in producing art is to influence others.
“I want to offer something [they] can’t find in the book, like being kind,” Ndegeocello said. “We are losing our ability to be kind towards one another, to be open-minded towards one another. You lose that ambition once you find peace in yourself. I no longer needed people to clap for me, and I want to make something that is meaningful to other people.”
During a question-and-answer session with Kevin Karnes, professor and chair of the Department of Music, Ndegeocello mentioned that the inspiration for her music comes from meeting new people and collaborating with different artists.
Rolande Kangnigan (23C) said the lecture exceeded her expectations, and expressed satisfaction for having attended.
“I didn’t know what to expect going in because I’ve never heard of her. I only went because her name reminded me of Africa, which is where I’m from,” Kangnigan said. “But I’m really glad that I went. She is really cool and I love [that] she puts herself on a level with us and doesn’t hold herself above us.”
The Provost Lecture Series aims to provide students, faculty, staff and the public with opportunities to interact with prominent scholars and foster a culture of excellence that attracts and inspires scholars of the highest order.
“Bringing innovative thinkers, speakers and artists like Meshell [Ndegeocello] to campus each year supports this unified vision of Emory as a world-class research university, implementing the ‘One Emory: Engaged for Impact’ academic plan,” Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Dwight A. McBride said to introduce the lecture.