Her recording career started nearly 20 years ago with pop hits, including "If That Was Your Boyfriend (He Wasn't Last Night)" and a rollicking duet with John Mellencamp on a cover of Van Morrison's "Wild Night." She has made albums that showcased funk and hip-hop (2002's Cookie: The Anthropological Mixtape), sultry soul (2003's Comfort Woman), and improvisational jazz (2005's The Spirit Music Jamia: Dance of the Infidel).
Her most recent record, last year's Joe Henry-produced Weather, emphasized her singer-songwriter side; a quiet cover of Leonard Cohen's "Chelsea Hotel" fit right in. This fall, she'll release a set of Nina Simone covers: It may not be coincidental that Simone once did a stirring version of Cohen's "Suzanne."
So, it's not easy to predict what Ndegeocello will focus on for Friday's show at Wilmington's World Cafe Live at the Queen, and Ndegeocello isn't sure herself.
"I wish I was better at explaining things like that," she says when asked what she has planned. "I just do what I do. It's four people on stage trying to take this one idea somewhere. It's democracy at work: The music is there and we all just see what we can add to it."
Ndegeocello says she doesn't give much thought to the fact that she shifts among many styles, although few performers rival her high-level eclecticism. In late June, she was in Washington for a show with George Clinton and Ivan Neville called "Bring Back the Funk," put on by the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture. Then, she performed at the Montreal Jazz Festival. Later this summer, she will participate in tributes to soul man Curtis Mayfield and early jazz innovator Fats Waller.
She's a quintessential example of an artist following her muse and hoping her audience enjoys the journey, although she knows that can lead to surprises.
"I get restless when I hear new things and they spark my curiosity. If anything, I just forget that some people see me as a certain thing. I'm sorry when I disappoint them, and I'm happy when they're happy. I don't have any control of how I'm perceived, except by my immediate friends and family. Or I don't care," she says with a laugh. "I can only be me."
Meshell Ndegeocello and Angela Sheik play at 8:30 p.m. Friday at World Cafe Live at the Queen, 500 N. Market St., Wilmington. Tickets: $36 and $46. Information: 302-994-1400, www.worldcafelive.com.