The phenomenal powerhouse blues voice of Shemekia Copeland is now a very well-established blues commodity. The multiple W. C. Handy award winner is still in her early twenties but singing with the intense experience and feeling of a life-long veteran of the genre. Shemekia has gained the respect of fans, her peers and mentors, and the business. By innately combining her blues music heritage, her Harlem nativity, and a dogged desire to sing, she delivers with an emotive compassion, feeling and energy.
Shemekia has been growing dominate the female blues field since her dynamic debut under the wing of Alligator Records president Bruce Iglauer in 1998. At her coming-out appearance at that year's Chicago Blues Festival the tears were flowing back stage, on stage, and in the audience as Shemekia put on a riveting show with raw soul, pumped power rhythms, and straight emotion laced through her blues. Iglauer then related (t)he blues world has been waiting for someone like Shemekia for a long time" ... and that "(s)he has the voice, the presence, and the roots all combined with the energy of a teenager." Copeland has to date released two critically acclaimed discs on the Alligator label: 1998's Turn The Heat Up and Wicked in 2000. With a tortuous touring schedule that has included 200-300 shows per year since her debut, Shemekia has indeed been turning some heads.
Across the country the Los Angeles Times said "(h)er presence is never less than compelling." The Washington Post says "(s)he's got the come-to-mama swagger, the knowing gaze, (and) (s)he can summon pain, then trumpet triumph over a no-good man in the very next number." Her hometown Village Voice exhorts "Shemekia proves that sexual and emotional bravado is as effective in the blues as in funk, r & b, or rap." The Chicago Tribune, on Alligator's home turf, confirmed that "(t)he daughter of the late blues belter Johnny Copeland does some belting of her own".
Outside of her W. C. Handy fame, Ms. Copeland has toured Europe numerous times and appeared in England to more rave reviews. She has appeared on National Public Radio, Late Night With Conan O'Brien , and CBS's Early Edition . She has, as well, hit the big screen with a cameo in the motion picture Three To Tango , and her music was recently featured in the movie Broken Hearts Club .
She has become best of friends with many of her mentors including vets Ruth Brown and Koko Taylor. Ruth Brown has been a constant source on business advice, and Koko has been a commanding influence on the young artist's work. Blues writer Art Tipaldi goes further relenting that she's being called "the next Koko, the next Aretha, (and) the next Etta". Even Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant touts her as "... bigger than the blues. She's the next Tina Turner."
Shemekia readily admits "I listen to Koko Taylor, Katie Webster, Trudy Lynn, and Etta James. But I don't try to copy them. I just take little things from each one and add them to my style. But for as long as I live my father's music live through me. I feel his spirit on stage every night. As long as I'm here, the blues will always be in me and I'm gonna be spreading it around the world. I'm going to keep doing this and make my daddy proud."
Texas blues man Johnny Clyde Copeland was the father and family man that recognized the inherent talents of his young daughter early on. She shared the stage with him at Harlem's famous Cotton Club at age eight. Shemekia relates "... my dad knew ever since I was a baby. He just knew I was gonna be a singer." She performed with him on television's Good Morning America , and was introduced and performed with greats like James Cotton, Gatemouth Brown, Bobby Rush, and Johnnie Johnson.
Johnny Copeland's premature death now undauntingly spurs his Mekia down the roads and up the ladders of success. Her first release is dedicated to her father. It includes his explosively emotive "Ghetto Child" which exposes systemic American racism and apartheid. Her sophomoric Wicked contains her father's "It's My Own Tears", a salty love ballad about unabashed commitment and dedicated love.
Shemekia has pulled together a New York team with her standing road band. Arthur Neilson on guitar, Dona Oxford on piano, Eric King on bass, and drummer Barry Harrison have joined her on the road. Jimmy Vivino co-produced and played on her last effort, and Joe Louis Walker, Michael Hill, and Mike Welch appeared on her first release. The Uptown Horns: Crispin Cioe on alto and baritone sax, Larry Etkin on trumpet, Arno Hecht on tenor sax, and Robert Funk on trombone have play on both releases.
She has co-written some of her songs and utilized the material of songwriter/manager John Hahn, Jon and Sally Tiven, Tony Joe White, Don Covay, Jimmy Vivino, and others. Her father's song book remains dear to her heart, and her listening pleasures recall old Stax material. Some call her approach 'citified' but Shemekia affirms her love of southern soul blues. Her father's Texan influences and her New York upbringing also steer her pathways. Beginning to enjoy some crossover success, Shemekia Copeland continues to climb. We anxiously await her next recordings.
While the blues world chugs and churns with mediocre careers and subsistence living, Shemekia has moved about an hour outa New York City, and is now enjoying a very well marketed existence. A common name to any blues fan, Shemekia has crunched the competition and enlivenly excited the blues scene: Billboard calls her a "fire starter", Emerge says she is "gutsy", and Living Blues describes her voice as "pure, beautifully unaffected and powerful". CNN labeled her a "one-woman revival act, a lesson in the power of live music" and Variety claims "she has a command that many a singer only dream about." Whatever way you want to say it, Shemekia Copeland has conquered the blues!
Simply click on the CD cover at left to this CD NOW!
This article is copyright © 2002 by Mark A. Cole, and Blues On Stage at: www.mnblues.com, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission.
For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.
You can help support this blues website by making a contribution, click on the banner below for details
Web Hosting & Design:
Web Hosting & Design.
Most affordable web hosting and design services available.
Find out how you can host your current site at Blues On Stage, or how I can help you design your own website!
If you would like your CD reviewed, please send TWO (2) copies, along with promotional material to:
Blues On Stage
PO Box 582983
Minneapolis, MN 55458-2983
E-mail Ray Stiles @ email@example.com with any questions.