She sings straight from the soul. Even as a teen, she delivered her songs with an amazing intensity and maturity. Now she has grown up to be the finest, most-acclaimed female blues and R&B singer of her generation. With a performing and recording career that spans 15 years (and she’s only 31!), she’s electrified audiences around the world. Shemekia Copeland has truly made a lifetime mark in a few short years.
Inspired by her late father, Grammy-winning Texas bluesman Johnny Clyde Copeland, Shemekia first performed at the age of eight. She was on the road and on the stage with him at the tender age of 16. It was her father’s deep blues roots, combined with her experience growing up in the tough streets of Harlem, that brings such power and emotion to her music. “My dad knew ever since I was a baby,” she says. “He just knew I was gonna be a singer.” But she denied it. Then, when Johnny was diagnosed with heart problems and eventually had to have a heart pump implanted, she received the calling. “It was like a switch went off in my head,” recalls Shemekia, “and I wanted to sing. It became a want and a need. I had to do it.”
Sing she did, opening shows for her father and discovering her huge voice and amazing control, as well as a sense of swaggering self-confidence that very much echoed her father’s. Soon she was doing her own local gigs while still attending high school. It was at one of those New York gigs where I first heard her on her own, delivering her songs with all the conviction and deep soul of an adult, pulling her rapt audience into each song. She was only 17 when she first went into a recording studio, and that day delivered her earthshaking rendition of her father’s song “Ghetto Child,” which is still one of the climaxes of her live shows.
She burst onto the national scene with her 1998 debut album Turn The Heat Up, which shot her straight to festival headliner status. The title track hit radio hard, two songs appeared in Hollywood films, and she was declared to be “the future of the blues.” Giants like B.B. King, Koko Taylor, Ruth Brown, James Cotton and Mavis Staples sang her praises, and Robert Plant declared her “the next Tina Turner.” With her second Alligator release, the Grammy-nominated Wicked, she won the first of her three national TV appearances. Her next two albums, Talking To Strangers and The Soul Truth, produced by Dr. John, and soul pioneer Steve Cropper respectively, found her giant talent just continuing to grow. She’s opened for The Rolling Stones and won eight Blues Music Awards (and 27 nominations).
Shemekia is constantly on the road. Her career has taken her all across the U.S.A., to Europe, and even to sing for the troops in Iraq. Everywhere she goes, she leaves behind scores of exhilarated fans, bowled over by the sheer power, depth and humor of this young woman with the very grownup soul.
We’ll putting out our own review of her latest album Deluxe Edition in the next fews days.
By Glen Casebeer/Northwest Music Scene