Blues vocalist Shemekia Copeland

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The multiple Grammy nominee shows why, although she’s heir to a rich blues tradition, she’s making her own mark in music.

When you follow in the musical footsteps of your legendary father (the late blues guitarist Johnny Clyde Copeland), you know you've stepped out of his shadow when you're declared the new "Queen of the Blues" by none other than the daughter of the great Koko Taylor. That's the backstory of Shemekia Copeland, who's a force to be reckoned with in the blues genre. Since singing at the famed Cotton Club at age 8, she's opened for the Rolling Stones, headlined festivals around the world and won two Grammy nods. Copeland landed a record deal at age 19 and has shared the stage with the greats. She's even performed at the White House. Her latest CD is the Grammy-nominated "33 1/3."


Tavis: Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter, Shemekia Copeland, comes by her blues credentials honestly. Her father was the late great guitarist, Johnny Copeland. Along with her father, her blues inspirations were Bessie Smith, Koko Taylor, Alberta Hunter and Ruth Brown with whom she had the honor of recording back in 2000.

Her latest CD is called “33 1/3” and, before we close this program tonight, she’ll be performing a song called “Somebody Else’s Jesus.” Shemekia, good to have you on this program.

Shemekia Copeland: Oh, it’s so great to be here. Thank you for having me.

Tavis: It’s good to see you. Before we get too deep into this, you’re gonna perform this a little bit later, as I said a moment ago. But I love the lyrics on this track, “Somebody Else’s Jesus.”

Copeland: Thank you.

Tavis: I mean, you think of certain blues singers, certainly women – not even true for women. Men are guilty of this as well in the reverse. But you think of women blues singers and you think of stuff like that no-good man did me wrong and he’s leaving me. I love that kind of stuff. It’s funny, it’s entertaining and there’s a story line in it. But your stuff, you know…

Copeland: I’m tired of talking about love, man. Forget that. No more love for me.

Tavis: You got some social commentary in this stuff here.

Copeland: Yeah. I wanna talk about politics and religion and domestic violence and, you know, things that are going on in the world which is what makes the music contemporary, you know, because it’s relevant to the times now. And that’s what I want to talk about and I’m having a ball doing it too.

Tavis: How do you do that, though, without being preachy, without prosethelytizing, number one? And number two, how do you do that and make it sound good?

Copeland: Very clever songwriting.

Tavis: Yeah?

Copeland: Yeah. I am so blessed that I work with really, really great songwriters that, you know, get the point across, bending it without breaking it because I don’t want to be preachy ’cause I’m not. But I definitely want to make my point. And working with the songwriters that I work with, John Han and Oliver Wood, we’re able to do that, you know.

And then I go back to some of my father’s music which is amazing that, you know, some of it was written 40 or 50 years ago and it’s still relevant to the times now. It’s amazing. So he left me with a lot of music, you know, that I can refer back to.

Tavis: Your father and the other influences I mentioned a moment ago that impacted your life and your song stylings, why is it important for you to take that particular tact? I mean, you could be singing lyrics that are saying something totally different. Why is it important for you to use the music in that way?

Copeland: Because what I put out into the universe is so important for me, you know. After I’m long gone and done with this world, I want people to be able to look at my music and know what was going on in the 2000s, you know, and say, wow, she really talked about what was happening, you know, what was going on in the times.

It’s a history lesson as well as good music is what I’m trying to put out there for people. And it’s just always been important to me because, for me, I love this music so much. I love blues music so much and I see the potential of it and I know how great it is. And I want it out there for the rest of the world and I know that, in order to do that, I have to do something different.

You know, I have to evolve and grow so that this music can evolve and grow which is why I do things like, you know, I had been singing for 15 years and then I said, okay, I’m gonna go get voice lessons [laugh] so I can learn to sing now that I’ve been making records.

Tavis: Now that you been making records [laugh].

Copeland: I’m gonna go get some voice lessons so I can learn to sing because I want to constantly evolve and grow too so that the music can. And that’s what I’m trying to do.

Tavis: On this new project, “33 1/3,” tell me how you went about – I know the titles I mentioned a moment ago. So this is how old you were when you did the record.

Copeland: Yeah. I was 33 1/3. Now I’m 34 and a little bit more. So it was a little bit my age and then also the resolution of LPs, you know, 33 1/3. So it was just a clever idea, you know, that John had.

Tavis: But I got to confess, though. When I first saw this, the first track that I was aware of was the one you’re doing tonight, “Somebody Else’s Jesus.” And I saw the number 33 and I said, okay, they crucified Jesus…

Copeland: Oh, that’s right.

Tavis: At 33.

Copeland: That’s true. I didn’t even think about that.

Tavis: I didn’t know where this was going. I said, “Was Jesus 33 1/3 when he got crucified?” I didn’t know what the 1/3 part had to do with it. But I’m glad I figured it out. It’s your age and the LP.

Copeland: Exactly.

Tavis: It makes perfect sense.

Copeland: And then we put it out on recycled vinyl which was also real cool too. So it was my first – I loved vinyl so much as a kid. I used to go and buy vinyl, so it was my actual first vinyl album. So I was very excited and they did it on recycled vinyl which was very cool, a new hip way of doing it, yeah.

Tavis: You really are an old soul in a young body.

Copeland: [Laugh] Well, thank you for saying I have a young body, first of all.

Tavis: [Laugh] But I love that old soul, though. There’s some depth to that.

Copeland: Yeah. I feel like I been here before most all the time. You know, this is not my first rodeo, I always say, you know. I like to think I do life pretty well because, you know, I just feel good about it. You know, I feel good about my purpose and why I’m here and what I’m supposed to be doing.

Tavis: How have you found the journey at your age and as a woman?

Copeland: You know, I really try desperately not to complain because there’s so many women who came before me that went through a lot of crap so that I could go through less crap [laugh], you know. Ask a woman in this business. They went through a lot of crap so that I could go through less crap.

I mean, obviously, it’s the same in any business, you know. If you’re a woman in any business, you know, you’re a woman in a business. So you go through those things, but I’ve been really blessed that I have a great foundation of people around me that help me to get through it without a bunch of drama and issues, yeah.

Tavis: What’s your sense – what do you hope the imprint of your generation will be on this music we call blues?

Copeland: Well, I hope that we all continue to do it, stay focused and always remember the people who came before us, you know, while we’re still all trying to be original and do our own thing and make new music. We want to still remember the people who came before us and the reason why we do what we do.

And I think that, you know, 30 years from now, we’ll all still be out there and we’ll all still be doing it. And I think it has staying power because we are doing it. So I think it’ll be a good imprint.

Tavis: The new project from Shemekia Copeland is called “33 1/3.” She is now – can I say this? The Queen of the Blues? I said it, I said it. The Queen of the Blues. B.B.’s the king, she’s the queen. And I don’t need to convince you of that because when you hear her perform in just a second, you’ll see what I mean.

She’s about to perform a song from the record called “Somebody Else’s Jesus.” Listen to the lyrics. Her guitarist is Arthur Nelson. Shemekia, good to have you on the program.

Copeland: Thank you so much for having me.

Tavis: And congratulations. Enjoy “Somebody Else’s Jesus.” Thanks for watching and, as always, keep the faith.


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Last modified: March 10, 2014 at 12:32 pm