Singing the blues, but with gratitude
Blues vocalist Shemekia Copeland, who has been belting out songs since she was a little girl, brings an all-grown-up version of her "devastatingly powerful" sound to the Sheldon Theatre at 7:30 p.m. March 30.
Shemekia comes to music naturally. Born in Harlem, N.Y., she is the daughter of the late blues guitarist and singer Johnny Copeland.
Recognizing his daughter's talent early on, he brought her on stage to sing at Harlem's famed Cotton Club as a girl. She joined him on tours when she was just 16 and stepped out of his shadow at 18 with the release of her debut CD, "Turn the Heat Up," in 1998.
It was the Chicago Sun Times that declared her "a ball-of-fire vocalist with a voice that's part Memphis, part Chicago and all woman ... devastatingly powerful." Her singing has been described as a "wide-open vision of contemporary blues, roots and soul music ... with a modern musical and lyrical approach."
According to USA Today, "Shemekia captures the timelessness of the blues while spinning it forward with remarkable maturity."
Her most recent album, "Outskirts of Love," led to a packed tour schedule for Shemekia and her band of three guitarists and a drummer. They'll be performing in Minneapolis' Dakota Jazz Club the night before their Red Wing appearance.
"That's what makes it exciting. You change it up" and do things differently in different venues with different crowds, Shemekia said. "It makes it fun. We live for that kind of stuff."
She and some of the band members have been performing together for decades, she said. "People tend to see that we love what we're doing. We have fun. We make people feel good."
The Sheldon concert will feature a mix of all the music she's been performing over the past 20 years, Shemekia said.
At the same time, her eyes are firmly fixed on the future and on breaking new musical ground.
"I want to keep growing, to be innovative," she posted on her website. "I'm a lifer, singing about things that bother me, using my music to help people.
"My dad always said, 'We're all connected.' I'm an old soul marching to the beat of my own drum, and right now I'm making the most exciting music of my career."
Shemekia has never shied away from social commentary. Her recent work includes such songs as "Cardboard Box," about homelessness. Religious hypocrites, politicians, domestic violence and date rape all have made their way into her lyrics.
But she does not dwell on those topics. "It's not about who we are. We're grateful we're doing what we love," she said. "I'm so fortunate. I am surrounded by amazingly wonderful people I work with."
A new album that is scheduled for release in August may be her most candid expression of self, with songs about things that are happening in her life, including her baby and the world she brought him into.
A Grammy-nominated soul singer, Shemekia has been honored numerous times with Blues Music Awards. Nominated 35 times by the Blues Foundation, she was named winner nine times — so far. She's up again this year in the contemporary blues female artist category.
She has performed thousands of gigs at clubs, festivals and concert halls all over the world, and has appeared on national television and radio, in newspapers and in films.
Shemekia has sung with the likes of Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Carlos Santana and many others, including opening for The Rolling Stones and entertaining U.S. troops in Iraq and Kuwait. In 2012 she performed at the White House for President Barack Obama and the first lady.
Tickets to the 7:30 p.m. March 30 concert are $33 to $38. Visit the box office, call 651-388-8700 or go online to www.sheldontheatre.org.