Shemekia Copeland headlines Bradenton Blues Festival

New 'Queen of the Blues' explores lyrical, musical boundaries

mclear@bradenton.comDecember 5, 2013 

She won't talk about it unless you ask. And when she does talk about it, she acts like it's no big deal.

In 2011, at the Chicago Blues Festival, Shemekia Copeland was named "Queen of the Blues."

"I'm not going around saying I'm the queen of the blues," she said. "And I don't feel like the queen of the blues. But it's nice that other people think of me that way."

The Chicago Blues Festival had only named one official Queen of the Blues before -- the great Koko Taylor.

"She had it for 50 years, and when she died they gave it to me," Copeland said.

Koko Taylor's daughter, Cookie, actually presented Copeland with the crown Koko had owned for a half-century.

Local blues lovers will get a chance to experience Copeland's powerful presence when she headlines the second annual Bradenton Blues festival Saturday on the Riverwalk.

The festival gets going at 11 a.m. Copeland's set is scheduled to begin at 6:20 p.m.

Copeland's only 34 now, but she's been making explosive blues albums for 15 years.

She got her start while still in high school, when her father, Texas blues guitarist Johnny Copeland, took her out on the road with him to open shows for him.

Her first album, "Turn the Heat Up," came out in 1998. Not long after, "Down Beat" magazine named her "Rising Star -- Blues Artist" for the year.

She's no stranger to heady honors. Last year, she was invited to the White House to perform alongside B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Jeff Beck and Mick Jagger.

"I got to sing with Mick Jagger," she said. " 'Miss You.' I sang back-up on 'Miss You.' That was so, so cool."

She had known all the other musicians at the White house concert before. Guy, one of the all-time great blues guitarists, played on Copeland's most recent album, the massively acclaimed and commercially successful "33 1/3," which came out in 2012.

Most artists would push another album out to keep the momentum going. Copeland said she's not even thinking about another one just yet

"I'm not in a rush to make records," she said. "I like to let life happen. I have no interest in putting album after album out, which I see so many people doing. I want to make a great album, not a good album."

Musically, Copeland is known for songs firmly rooted in blues but, especially lately, she also explores rockabilly, country and folk. She works with a team of writers who use the blues form but who lyrically explore politics and societal issues.

"Just because I'm a woman," Copeland said, "doesn't mean I can only sing about men."

Details: 11 a.m.-7:35 p.m. Dec. 7, Bradenton Riverwalk. Tickets: $40 at the gate; online in advance, $30 adult, $20 student; $10 children. Information: bradentonbluesfestival.org.

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.

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