Born: April 10, 1979 in Harlem NY
Shemekia Copeland was an old soul at a tender age, a blues singer in the mold of Koko Taylor and Etta James who is capable of expressing great emotion, empathy, and sensuality in her vocals. The daughter of blues guitar legend Johnny Copeland, Shemekia literally grew up on the blues, and began her career as a teenager. Genetics can't explain her immense talent, however, and Copeland's dynamic live performance style has made her one of the most popular performers on the contemporary blues scene.
Growing Up In The Blues
Born in Harlem, New York in 1979, Shemekia Copeland is the daughter of the late Texas blues guitar legend Johnny Copeland. The elder bluesman recognized his daughter's vocal talents at an early age, and encouraged her to sing at home, and even brought her on stage with him at New York City's famed Cotton Club when she was only eight years old.
While her father eased her into a singing career, Shemekia absorbed the rich musical environment around her, taking in the sounds of the street, the church, and the radio in developing her own eclectic and electrifying style. At the age of 15, as her father's health declined due to health issues, Copeland went on the road with her father as his opening act, complimenting his performance and establishing her as a force to be reckoned with in the blues world. The exposure eventually led to a deal with Alligator Records.
The Alligator Years
Copeland recorded her debut, Turn The Heat Up, at the young age of 18, working with producers John Hahn and Bruce Iglauer, Alligator's founder. A blistering collection of songs, most of which were co-written by Hahn, the album displayed Copeland's mature vocals and presence nonetheless. Her lone original song on the album, "Ghetto Child," showcased the singer's fledgling songwriting skills. The album turned heads, receiving widespread critical acclaim, and established Copeland on the festival circuit.
Working again with Hahn and Iglauer, Copeland's sophomore album, 2000's Wicked, offered a more refined and powerful approach to the blues. The album earned Copeland three Blues Music Awards from The Blues Foundation, including "Contemporary Female Artist of the Year." Dr. John came on board to produce 2002's Talking To Strangers, which earned Copeland another three BMA's, including "Album of the Year." Copeland finished her tenure with Alligator with 2005's The Soul Truth. Produced by Memphis soul legend Steve Cropper, the album marked the addition of elements of soul and funk to Copeland's powerful blues vocals.
Never Going Back
Copeland signed with Telarc Records for 2009's Never Going Back, the album displaying another leap forward in the artist's growth. Determined to take blues music into new directions, Copeland used traditional blues as a foundation, gospel and jazz sounds creeping in among the singer's soul and funk influences. Working with some new musicians, including avant-garde guitarist Mark Ribot; keyboardist John Medeski from Medeski, Martin & Wood; and keyboardist Kofi Burbridge from Derek Trucks' band, Copeland tries on songs from Percy Mayfield, Joni Mitchell, and even her dad's "Circumstances."
Recommended Albums: While Copeland's Wicked is considered the artist's watershed moment, one can't discount the maturity and refinement on Never Going Back. The best of Copeland's three Alligator albums have been distilled into the Deluxe Edition compilation. While Copeland continues to show artistic growth from album to album, one wishes she work a little more on her songwriting chops, which show insight and promise, rather than rely on John Hahn to deliver most of her material.
Shemekia Copeland Discography
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