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FEATURES -- Interview with Shemekia Copeland

 

THE FUTURE OF THE BLUES

Blues singer Shemekia Copeland, now a Chicagoan,  rings in the New Year with awards, acclaim and a career retrospective CD. And she’s only 31.

  Shemekia carries the blues torch into the future, while remembering the past.

Shemekia Copeland times 2
photos: Michael Kurgansky

By Eric Schelkopf

It only seems fitting that Grammy-nominated blues singer and New York transplant Shemekia Copeland has made Chicago  her home for the past seven years.

 Copeland's ties to the city are strong.  Starting at age 18, she cut four albums for  Chicago-based Alligator Records, and now Alligator has just released "Deluxe Edition, which features 16 tracks from her days with the label.

 The critically-acclaimed blues singer will perform a New Year's Eve show at S.P.A.C.E., 1245 Chicago Ave., Evanston.

 The show starts at 10 p.m., and general admission tickets are $40, available at www.ticketweb.com

I had the opportunity to interview Copeland about a variety of topics, including the influence of her father, the late Texas blues guitar legend Johnny Clyde Copeland, and how she sees herself fitting into the blues scene.

Shemekia Copeland triplets
photos: Michael Kurgansky

Q - How do you like living in Chicago?

I love it. I think the people are friendly, and there is so much great music around.

And Chicago has all the arts and culture. But it's a whole lot cleaner and not as many people as in New York. Here in Chicago, you can actually walk along Michigan Avenue and observe and look and see, and walk with a certain amount of space around you.

 

Q - It seems like you are always getting new honors. In October, you were named Best Female Blues Artist at the 2010  Blues Blast Magazine Music Awards, and in July you were named Female  Blues Artist of the Year by Living Blues Magazine. Do these honors still surprise you?

You know, I look at it this way. God has blessed me to have a job doing what I love, and I feel honored every day  that I have that. 

A lot of people go to work every day and they hate their gig. But I love mine, so I feel honored all the time. It's just a little icing on the cake for me that people appreciate me.

 

Q - Unfortunately, blues legend Koko Taylor passed away last year. A lot of people said that you would inherit her  title as Queen of the Blues. Do you accept that title?

Not really, because in my mind and heart, Koko will always be the Queen of the Blues.

I'm honored that people would say that I have the goods. But she will always be the Queen of the Blues as far as I am concerned.

 

Q - Would you consider her a musical influence?

Absolutely. Not only that, she was also a personal influence, because she was such a great lady.

She was so sweet to me. She would call me just to see how was I doing. And when she didn't believe me when I told  her how I was doing, she'd call my mom to make sure I was telling her  the truth.

Shemekia Copeland
photo: Jennifer Wheeler

Q - Alligator Records just released Deluxe Edition, which features tracks from your Alligator albums over the  years. Are you happy with the tracks they chose for the album?

 Yes. I've never done a song I didn't want to do in the first place, so anything they would have picked, I would have  said, "That's cool."

 

Q - Of course, last year you released Never Going Back, your debut on the Telarc label. Are you working on any new music? What should people expect from the new CD?

Well, I haven't started working on anything yet. You can have ideas in your mind, but things kind of start taking  shape when you start working on it. I think it will be definitely in the  same vein as what I was trying to do with Never Going Back.

 

Q - What were your main goals for that album?

I wanted to be more honest with my feelings and thoughts about what was going on in the world.

I'm at the age (31years old) for that now. When I was just getting started, nobody wanted to hear a teenager spew their opinions about what they think is going on in the world, because they don't know shit.

 

Q - Do you think your dad is still an influence on you?

Absolutely. I listen to him all the time just to get inspired. It's all about how you were raised. All the lessons I learned from him about being a musician and work ethic and all of that was great, but he was a really great father too.

 

Q - He brought you on stage at the Cotton Club in Harlem to sing when you were just eight. Do you have any memories of that day?

I remember that plain as day. I was scared to death. That you don't forget.

Shemekia
photo: Jennifer Wheeler

 Q - Your live shows always draw rave reviews. What do you like about being in front of an audience?

I like communicating with the people, and being there with the people. That's my favorite part.

 

Q - A few years back, there was a surge of interest in the blues, but it seems like now it's hard to get people to listen to the blues. What do you think it is going to take? Is it going to take younger people like you to bring people to the blues? 

I've stopped trying to figure it out. I had all these unrealistic ideas that I was going to change this music and  make it as big as country music.

My goals changed a long time ago. I know in my heart of hearts that as long as I'm doing it, the blues will always be around.

I don't know what it's going to take. Everybody is always waiting for the next guitar player savior to come and save the blues.

Shemekia
photo: Michael Kurgansky

Q - Do you find it strange, too, that you are likely to see more Caucasians at a blues club than African-Americans?  Does that frustrate you at all?

No, it doesn't frustrate me. I love anybody who comes out and supports me and supports the music.

I get frustrated with people who don't really care about the music. Like every year, there's some artist in a  different genre that is not doing well in their genre, so they decide  they want to make a blues record.

And then it gets nominated for a Grammy in the blues category, and people who deserve to be in it don't get nominated. They don't get recognized, because it's all about name  recognition.

But at this point in my life, I try not to let anybody frustrate me or anything, because otherwise you will be  frustrated all the time. 

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