Blues vocalist Shemekia Copeland to perform at Wilkes-Barre’s Kirby Center
Bluesmaster Johnny Clyde Copeland’s little girl is all grown up and her own woman now.
As a shy young girl, Shemekia Copeland first sang at Harlem’s famed Cotton Club, thanks to dad’s pull. Through hard work and careful management, she since has developed her own public persona that’s taken her on tours to Europe, Canada and throughout the United States.
The blueswoman is coming to Wilkes-Barre on Friday to kick up the summer heat at the city’s own crown jewel, the F.M. Kirby Center on Public Square.
The concert, an installment of the Chandelier Lobby Series, features general admission pricing in an intimate setting for several hundred people. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 the day of the show.
To Northeastern Pennsylvania music fans, the Copeland name is a familiar one. She has been a regular at the Pocono and Pennsylvania blues festivals over the years, first as a warm-up act with her father’s band and then with her own crew.
Shemekia’s father, the late Johnny Clyde Copeland, was a Texas bluesman who became a fan favorite at the Pocono Blues Festival near Lake Harmony, which he headlined twice in the 1990s. He died 20 years ago at age 60 during heart surgery.
Johnny Clyde Copeland, a Grammy Award winner who took his blues show on a 10-country tour of Africa, inspired and encouraged his daughter to perform.
Shemekia started singing occasionally with her father as a young girl, because Johnny Clyde sensed his daughter had talent. When his health began to decline a few years later in the 1990s from heart disease, he took 16-year-old Shemekia on the blues circuit as his opening act, which gave her audience exposure and experience, so she could find her own voice.
Performing became her life, and she is forever grateful to her father’s inspiration and professional guidance.
“Dad wanted me to think I was helping him out by opening his shows when he was sick, but really he was doing it all for me. He would go out and do gigs so I would get known. He went out of his way to get me that exposure,” Copeland, 38, who now lives in Chicago, said in her online biography.
Audiences can count on Copeland paying tribute to her father by performing “Ghetto Child,” a staple in his song arsenal.
Unlike dad, Shemekia does not play guitar. Her voice is her instrument, backed by a strong four-piece band with each member bringing decades of experience to the stage.
At times she will sound like a fiery blues rocker. She does gospel as well as anyone on the circuit today. She can deliver a blistering soul shout, be sultry and even pull off a country-inspired ballad.
Her latest album, “Outskirts of Love,” is on the respected Alligator blues label and features Americana and blues-roots numbers, a New Orleans sound and three songs about challenges facing working people in America today.
Copeland also showed her versatility by adding a country tune, “Drivin’ Out of Nashville,” which makes the dubious assertion that “country music ain’t nothing but the blues with a twang” while she sings about a tale of sexual harassment.
John Hahn, her longtime manager who has known the singer’s family for 30 years, said, “Shemekia, over time, has found a voice as an artist that other women can relate to. … She has really come to be her own person, singing about issues that women and mothers deal with all the time in their lives.”
He notes that the song, “Ain’t Gonna Be Your Tattoo,” speaks to domestic violence and “Crossbone Beach” to date rape. As a new mother — her 7-month-old son is named after her late father — she will be recording songs about the challenges of motherhood.
Michael Cloeren, who knows a thing or two about the music as Pocono Blues Festival producer, said “Shemekia’s live stage performance is top notch with her mix of contemporary songs and classic ballads with her excellent storytelling and her charming sense of humor.” He has known the Copelands for decades.
In a recent review, Chicago Tribune critic Howard Reich said, “Two decades after her stunning recording debut … Copeland stands not as an 18-year-old prodigy startling listeners with the sheer power of her instrument, but as a 38-year-old new mom out to change the world. Or at least try to repair it as much as she can.”
Wish her well with her activism and count on her bringing a good show to the Wyoming Valley Friday night.
COOL COPELAND FACTS
Show details: 8 p.m. Friday. Tickets cost $20 in advance and $25 at door, plus fees. Tickets available at Kirby Center box office, by phone at 570-826-1100 and online at kirbycenter.org.
Good company: Shemekia Copeland’s mentors have included Ruth Brown, Mavis Staples and Koko Taylor. Dr. John of New Orleans produced an early album, and Billy F. Gibbons of ZZ Top fame is guest artist on her most recent album. She has sung with Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Carlos Santana.
Her late father: Johnny Clyde Copeland, a onetime boxer, played on Alligator Records’ most successful recording, the Grammy-winning ‘Showdown!’ with Albert Collins and Robert Cray. In the 1990s, he was a patient of Dr. Mehmet Oz, who began research on music as therapy after working with Copeland.