Born as Michelle Johnson in Berlin, she spent the first years of her life in Germany. The name Ndege'Ocello, pronounced (n-Day-gay-o-Chell-o), is Swahili for "free like a bird".
The daughter of a devotely religious mother and a strict military father, the family relocated to Virginia in the early 1970s. Though discipline prevailed in her home life, her father's occasional gigging as a jazz saxophonist provided her an introduction to music. As a teenager, Ndege'Ocello's interest in music lead her to the nightclubs of Washington, D.C., where she played bass guitar.
At about the same time, Ndege'Ocello began an exploration of her sexuality that would eventually become an aspect of her public persona almost as prominent as her musical acumen. Though her first romantic relationship with a woman left her feeling an outsider, her musical ambitions were left unscathed.
Disillusionment with the Duke Ellington school of the arts' predominantly male jazz department led her to Howard University, in the late 1980s. Her howard career, however, would be cut short by an unplanned pregnancy which resulted in a panicked retreat to New York.
Askia Ndege'Ocello was born in 1988 to a mother who worked various odd jobs to provide for her son. Auditions for a number of bands - most notably, living colour - led to a job with "Women in Love". Though bass players have rarely been the centerpiece of a band, Ndege'Ocello's presence was every bit as commanding as her talent.
Blurring the lines of sexuality and musical genres, Ndege'Ocello posed a threat to the status quo of the music industry. 1995 saw another successful collaboration with the Queen of Funk, Chaka Khan, on Never Miss the Water.
While Ndege'Ocello did not release an album of her own between 1996 and 1999, she definitely did not fade from the public's memory. Her third album, Bitter, was released in 1999, both her admirers and detractors waited with bated breath to see what this one-woman phenomenon would do next.
While Ndege'Ocello's undeniable talent as both a musician and singer easily establish her as a 90s diva, she offers a considerable lot more - railing against racism, sexism and homophobia with quiet strength, Ndege'Ocello contributes much more to society than just her music. A German-born, African-American, bisexual artist and mother, Ndege'Ocello is a new kind of every-woman who has the respect of her peers and her fans, and has clearly redefined the term "diva" to mean bald-headed, bass-playing funkdafied soul sista.