Shemekia Copeland on Growing Up: "Why Would Anyone Want to Listen to Me?"
© Suzanne Foschino
"There was no question for him," blues singer Shemekia Copeland recalls of her father, renowned singer and guitarist Johnny Copeland. "I swear, I was in my mother's arms on the way home from the hospital when he said, 'She's going to be a blues singer.' So there was never any doubt as far as what he believed or, for that matter, anybody else. I was never going to be a psychiatrist or anything."
Copeland's father helped spearhead an interest in Texas blues, and while still in her teens, she toured with him, appearing alongside the great onstage and slowly gaining her own footing as an artist. By 1997, Copeland's course was set. She signed to the venerable Chicago blues label Alligator Records and released her first album, Turn the Heat Up, a year later. Seven albums would follow in regular succession, including her latest, the newly minted Outskirts of Love.
Though Shemekia Copeland never viewed her talent as a birthright, her father's legacy nevertheless lingers large. "I am so lucky and blessed that I was born a female and I don't play guitar, because I have friends who are male, second-generation guitar players like their fathers, and they always get compared in the worst sort of way," she says. "If you know me and know my father, then you know all the things I've stolen from him. My family watches me, and they say, 'Oh, God. That's Johnny Copeland!'"
That indelible image of her father is still with her. "Let me tell you, it was easier being out there with Dad than it was doing my own thing," says Copeland, reflecting on her growth as an artist. "I never thought I could sing. I grew up listening to great singers — Howlin' Wolf, Ella Fitzgerald, Koko Taylor, all these great voices — so I wondered, 'Why would anyone want to listen to me?'?
"It wasn't until I was much, much older that I realized that, no, I'm not a great singer, but I'm a different kind of one," she continues. "I just wanted to be appreciated for sounding different and not sounding like everybody else... When I open my mouth, I want people to say, 'That's Shemekia Copeland,' and there's no denying it."
8 p.m. Friday, October 16, at The Funky Biscuit, 303 SE Mizner Blvd., Boca Raton. Tickets cost $20 to $40; $25 general admission day of show. Call 561-395-2929.
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