Saturday, Feb 25, 2012 8:00 PM EST
Iridium, New York, NY
At a young age, Shemekia Copeland is already a force to be reckoned with in the blues. While still in her 20s, she’s opened for the Rolling Stones, headlined at the Chicago Blues Festival and numerous festivals around the world, scored critics choice awards on both sides of the Atlantic (The New York Times and The Times of London) and shared the stage with such luminaries as Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Taj Mahal and John Mayer.
Heir to the rich tradition of soul-drenched divas like Ruth Brown, Etta James and Koko Taylor, Copeland’s shot at the eventual title of Queen of the Blues is pretty clear. By some standards, she may already be there.
Copeland’s passion for singing, matched with her huge, blast-furnace voice, gives her music a timeless power and a heart-pounding urgency. Her music comes from deep within her soul and from the streets where she grew up, surrounded by the everyday sounds of the city – street performers, gospel singers, blasting radios, bands in local parks and so much more.
Born in Harlem, New York, in 1979, Copeland actually came to her singing career slowly. Her father, the late Texas blues guitar legend Johnny Clyde Copeland, recognized his daughter’s talent early on. He always encouraged her to sing at home, and even brought her on stage to sing at Harlem’s famed Cotton Club when she was just eight. Atthe time, Shemekia’s embarrassment outweighed her desire to sing. But when she was fifteen and her father’s health began to fail, her outlook changed. “It was like a switch went off in my head, and I wanted to sing,” she says. “It became a want and a need. I had to do it.”
At only 19, Shemekia stepped out of her father’s shadow with the Alligator release of 1998 debut recording, Turn the Heat Up!, and the critics raved. The Village Voice called her “nothing short of uncanny,” while the Boston Globe proclaimed that “she roars with a sizzling hot intensity.” A year later, she appeared in the Motion Picture Three To Tango, while her song “I Always Get My Man, was featured in the film Broken Hearts Club.
Her second album, Wicked, released in 2000, scored three Handy Awards (Song of the Year, Blues Album of the Year, Contemporary Female Artist of the Year) and a GRAMMY nomination. Two years later, New Orleans R&B legend Dr. John stepped in to produce her third recording, Talking To Strangers (2002), which Vibe called “amasterful blend of ballsy rockers and cheeky ballads.”
Copeland released The Soul Truth in 2005. The album was produced by legendary Stax guitarist Steve Cropper (who also played on the CD), and featured generous doses of blues, funk and Memphis-flavored soul.