She has released a string of albums including her double-disc debut "Get Away From Me," second and third albums "Pretty Little Head" and "Obligatory Villagers" and her critically-acclaimed "Normal as Blueberry Pie: A Tribute to Doris Day."
Her music has been heard on TV shows such as "Mad Men," "Weeds," "Grey's Anatomy" and "NCIS."
In addition, McKay — pronounced ma-KAI — wrote original music for the Rob Reiner film "Rumor Has It" and recently completed an extended run of the off-Broadway hit "Old Hats," which won the Lucille Lortel award for Outstanding Alternative Theatrical Experience and Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Revue.
The thoughtful and sometimes whimsical McKay told The Park Record that an unseen force took her along for these creative rides.
"I think artistic endeavors choose you," McKay said during a phone interview from Brooklyn, N.Y. "It's like that old saying that children choose their parents. I feel that the art chose me to do these things."
She said this applies to her collaboration with the Turtle Island Quartet, which will be performed at the Eccles Center on Jan. 4.
"It was an experience to sit down and talk with David (Balakrishnan) who plays violin in the Quartet," McKay said. "We poured a couple of drinks, knocked a few back and a show was born.
McKay will play the piano, ukulele and guitar while the Quartet — Balakrishnan, cellist Mark Summer, violinist Mateusz Smoczynki and violist Benjamin von Gutzeit — will perform mostly as accompaniment.
"We have so many different songs in the repertoire and the hardest part for me is staying in tune," she said. "The quartet's artistry is very strong and it goes back to that tuning thing, again, because the strings are very lovely and warm."
McKay said she was influenced by many musical, theatrical and visual artists, who have helped shape her into who she is.
"I like most things," she laughed. "I don't have the greatest tastes, and that helps, but the things that touch me is whatever feels good or sounds good to me. And that's what made me want to play music."
In addition to her music, McKay has written and performed two musical biographies — "Silent Spring: It's Nice to Fool Mother Nature," which is about the late marine biologist and environmentalist Rachel Carson and "I Want to Live!" the story of Barbara Graham, the third woman executed in the San Quentin prison gas chamber.
McKay brought "I Want to Live!" to Park City in 2012.
"I think it's important for an artist to get involved in social issues because, really, it's just out of kindness," she said. "I mean, if we're all going to share the Earth, shouldn't we try to understand each other and try to get along?"
Other acting accolades include a Theatre World Award for her portrayal of Polly Peachum in Broadway's "Threepenny Opera" and a film credit as Ciara in Richard LaGravenese's 2007 romance, "P.S. I Love You."
With all of those projects under her belt, McKay seemed at a loss for what she wants to do next.
"I don't know," she said wryly. "Maybe I'll do some salsa music."
Nellie McKay and the Turtle Island Quartet will perform at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts, 1750 Kearns Blvd., on Saturday, Jan. 4, at 7:30 p.m. The concert is presented by the Park City Institute. Tickets range from $20 to $69 and are available by visiting www.ecclescenter.org .