Spellbound // Meshell Ndegeocello

“What I like about Nina is she wore everything on her sleeve, nothing was hidden,” Meshell Ndegeocello told the packed house at Harlem’s Schomburg Center on a recent evening. The occasion was a celebration of Nina Simone as part of the Schomburg’s annual Women’s Jazz Festival, and as one of our favorite singers wrapped her voice around the High Priestess of Soul’s lyrics, the evening took on a unique coloring, at once effervescent and deep. Ndegeocello has a unique gift for turning covers into her own. Whether it’s the sexy sounds of Prince (to whom she recently devoted an entire concert) or careening through a “Wild Night” when she first hit the scene, she manages to reveal more about herself as she makes these iconic jams her own. Ndegeocello, whose latest album Weather has been all up in our heads lately, paused between songs on the Schomburg stage to muse, “Imagine. This was popular music. Insane how things have changed,” before noting Simone’s “clear and regal” presence and gift for words. Luckily, we still have artists like Ndegeocello to take us by the hand and guide us into a new musical landscape. Like Nina, she put a spell on her audience.

—Angela Cravens