Shemekia Copeland to sing the blues in Park City
January 8, 2013
Grammy Award nominated and W.C. Handy Award winning blues singer Shemekia Copeland was 29 when she entertained troops in Iraq and Kuwait a little more than two years ago.
It was an experience she will never forget.
"It was overwhelming," Copeland said during a telephone interview with The Park Record from her home in Chicago, Ill. "It was one of the best experiences in my life and one of the most hardest, because I would also visit the hospitals. There was a lot of emotional stress, knowing that I was 10 years older than some of the kids who were serving there."
Copeland, who will perform at the Egyptian Theatre on Jan. 11 and 12, said she wouldn’t change her experience in the Middle East for anything, because it gave her a knew perspective on life. And those perspectives have a tendency to find their way into the songs she records.
"When I was 18, 20 or 22 and making records, I had opinions, and maybe they were stronger than a lot of people at that age," she said. "But the opinions I have now are even more stronger because I have a better idea of what the world is like than I did back then."
That’s why she is proud of her new Grammy-nominated CD "33 1/3" that was released last September.
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The title has special meanings for Copeland.
"First, it’s a tribute to vinyl records, because that’s the speed the 12-inch vinyl record spins," she explained. "I grew up listening to vinyl and never thought it should have gone away."
The CD was also released on recycled vinyl and contains a download card that her fans can use to digitally download the CD onto their iPods, MP3 players and computers.
Copeland also liked the fact that she was 33 when the album was released.
"It just seemed like a great idea to give it the title," she said.
The recording sessions for "33 1/3" marks the second time Copeland worked with produce Oliver Wood of the Wood Brothers. The first time was when she recorded the CD "Never Coming Back."
"I grow with every album, and when I did ‘Never Going Back,’ it was my first time working Oliver," she said. "Since I had a chance to learn how he works and vice versa in the previous sessions, when we got together in the studio, it was like cake."
As in the past, Copeland didn’t bring an abundance of tunes to the studio.
"I never have more songs than I need," she said. "The reason why is that it takes me a long time to choose songs that I want to sing."
When selecting her songs, Copeland looks at the lyrics.
"The message is very important to me, and these songs all say something that is all about what is happening around us at this time in our lives," she said.
For example, the opening track, "Lemon Pie," is about politics and the difference between rich and poor, and another song, "Tattoo," is about domestic violence.
"We all know women and men go through abuse, whether it’s physical or emotional, every day," Copeland said. "So this song is a way to put these people in a position of power. I like the fact that the woman in the song finally gets out of the situation."
The track "Mississippi Mud" is about being stuck in an old mindset.
"Look around and you see the world is moving forward, but some people refuse to move along with it and are, in a sense, holding the world back," Copeland said. "I wanted to write a song that says, ‘Look, man. You have to get it together.’"
The singer also said she chooses songs that don’t necessarily cover the same issues her idols Koko Taylor and Etta James have sung about.
"I’m a great fan of Koko Taylor and a good friend, and people have asked me if I have ever thought about doing an album that covers her songs and Etta James songs," Copeland said. "I always say that I don’t see how me doing their songs would do them any honors, because they have already done it and I couldn’t do them any justice.
What’s more important to Copeland is to not repeat what they have already done.
"I didn’t have to go through the things they have gone through and it wouldn’t be fair for me to sing about those things," she said. "I’ve never picked cotton or worked in the field like my ancestors did, so I don’t think it’s proper for me to sing about their struggle, because it wouldn’t be real for me or the people who would hear those songs."
The album struck a chord with the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS), and was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Blue Album.
"It is a wonderful honor to be nominated for any kind of award," said Copeland, who was had her first Grammy nomination for the album "Wicked" in 2000. "When I got my first nomination, I was just a little (kid).
"Now, I’m a grown woman and have so many things I have to say and it’s wonderful to be able to say them and feel confident with my words," she said.
Blues singer Shemekia Copeland will perform at the Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St., on Friday, Jan. 11, and Saturday, Jan. 12, at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $25 to $44 and are available at http://www.parkcityshows.com.