shemekia copeland in the alternate rootShemekia Copeland (from the album 33 1/3) - Shemekia Copeland’s album 33 1/3 sums up her life in several ways. She chose the title as a tribute to the vinyl records she listened to growing up. It also represents her age when the album was released. But more than that, the record tells her thoughts about life, thus far, at age 33.“I think on this album, I am speaking out about what I feel about politics, what I feel about religion, what I feel about life,” she said from a Harlem hotel room during a recent tour. “This album feels good to me. On my last album, I really started to talk, saying the things that I think, saying the things I think people need to hear. I am almost 34 at this point, and when I am talking to 18 year olds, I want to say ‘You think you are grown up. You’re not. You have a lot to learn.” “I have lived and done so many things in my life, but there’s still so much ahead.”

Those that scoff need to realize that Copeland was born into music. She was only 8 when she took the stage at the famed Cotton Club in Harlem at the invitation of her father, blues guitar legend Johnny Clyde Copeland. She began singing herself not long afterward and toured as her father’s opening act when she was just a teen, landing a recording contract the year after her high school graduation and the death of her father.

Although some would crumple under the strain of a high-powered music career and the death of a parent, Copeland channeled her emotions into music. Her sophomore album Wicked was released in 2000, earning her prestigious Blues Music Awards.         

She’s been on something of a journey ever since, winning critical acclaim with the 2002 release of the Dr. John-produced Talking to Strangers, as well as other releases including the 2005 album The Soul Truth and the 2009 re-release of her 1998 debut Never Going Back. Singing at the White House, touring with major headliners such as Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, and Buddy Guy have also earned her much acclaim and continue to build her ever-growing fan base.

But it was 33 1/3, recently nominated for a Grammy Award for ‘Best Blues Album’that really brought Copeland into her own, musically. She credits long-time friend and manager John Hahn and the album’s producer, Oliver Wood, of the Wood Brothers, with helping her get to the place where she could express her social, religious, political and world views through music.

Consider the standout track “Lemon Pie”, in which Copeland sings sorrowfully of the plight of the indigent and poor. “John wrote ‘Lemon Pie’ based on conversations we had,” said Copeland who was literally crowned Queen of t    he Blues before 100,000-plus screaming fans at the 2011 Chicago Blues Festival. “I’ve known him since I was 8 years old and we talk all the time and we talk about all kinds of things. It’s really sad that our ancestors built this country on their backs so they could get married, buy homes, have children and live the American Dream. Everything has changed so much; we’re on a downward spiral.”

Copeland credits her parents with always being honest with her and working hard to ensure she understood values, ethics and morals and proper behavior.

“That’s why it’s very important to me what music I put out in the universe. It’s very, very important to me. I am a lifelong artist. I am here to stay while the others come and go. I’ll still be here, without costumes, without flash, without all the B.S.,” she said. “I’ll be here. I know that life is short. You have to think about where you’re going to be as you get older. A lot of artists don’t think even 10 years or 15 years ahead. A lot of their careers don’t even last that long. For me, I think about the blues. I could be singing them when I’m 70. I hope I am.”   (written by NANCY DUNHAM)

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