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Ndegeocello Credits Arts Education With Redefining Path to Success

With nine studio albums under her belt and a world tour under way, bass player Meshell Ndegeocello was in her hometown of Washington, D.C., last week recalling how arts classes were key to ensuring that she stayed in school until graduation.

“For someone like me who didn’t excel in a regular high school environment in terms of academics, it was definitely something that made me more secure as a person finding something I could be good at and a school where I could fit in,” she said.

Ndegeocello started playing the bass when she was 15 years old and found an instrument that a family friend had left at their house. As a teenager, Ndegeocello sometimes felt out of place and isolated from her peers. She found solace at Duke Ellington School of the Arts where she was able to explore a variety of creative and performing arts including dance, theater and music. Honing her skills as an emcee on the D.C. go-go circuit, Ndegeocello found her niche in music and the rest is history.

Ndegeocello drew big crowds in the 1990s with a mixture of go-go, hip-hop, funk and rock (Plantation Lullabies in 1993, Peace Beyond Passion in 1996), before expanding her musical repertoire.

After a decade touring smaller venues and taking considerable time off to be with her family, she doesn’t miss that initial buzz, however. That wasn’t something she went looking for. “Music is my only guide. I don’t care if people pigeonhole me. Miles Davis is my hero. He covered Cindy Lauper and Michael Jackson, and he didn’t give a hoot about what the purists said.”

NewsHour Extra caught up with Ndegeocello on her tour at the newly renovated Howard Theatre. She spoke about the importance of art education to make school attractive to a broad range of students. The bassist is also an advocate for young people who are victims of bullying. In 2010, she contributed to the essay anthology “It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living” commenting “Having gone through similar things myself, sometimes just giving five minutes of your time to tell a story about how you got through it super important.”

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