Shemekia Copeland: a new-generation ‘Queen of the Blues’


>>Sreenivasan: THE BLUES HAS BEEN AROUND AS A MUSICAL STYLE FOR SOME 150 YEARS, AND LIKE MANY ART FORMS, IT HAS ITS CONVENTIONS, IT’S PATTERNS AND ITS SUBJECT MATTER. ONE CONTEMPORARY ARTIST WHO’S STEEPED IN BLUES TRADITION IS AWARD WINNING VOCALIST SHEMEKIA COPELAND, BUT SHE’S ALSO A MUSICIAN WITH SOME NEW IDEAS ABOUT THE BLUES AS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND’S, TOM CASCIATO REPORTS. ♪ ♪ ♪>>Reporter: SHEMEKIA COPELAND MIGHT SEEM AT FIRST LIKE AN ARTIST OUT OF STEP WITH HER GENERATION.>>I GREW UP IN THE MIDDLE OF HARLEM DURING THE HIP HOP ERA, SO ALL MY FRIENDS WERE LISTENING TO RAP MUSIC, AND THAT’S WHERE A LOT OF THE RAPPERS CAME OF AGE RIGHT THERE IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD. KOOL MOE DEE AND BIG DADDY KANE. ♪ ♪ ♪ I LIKE THAT STUFF, BUT I WAS MOSTLY IN MY ROOM LISTENING TO OLD BLUES RECORDS. I WAS LISTENING TO RUTH BROWN. ♪ I’M GOING HOME ON THE MORNING TRAIN ♪ I’M GOING HOME ON THE MORNING TRAIN ♪>>KOKO TAYLOR. ♪ MAKE LOVE TO A CROCODILE I’M A WOMAN ♪>>ETTA JAMES AND ELLA FITZGERALD, SO I WAS OBSESSED WITH THESE, JUST VOICES, YOU KNOW. ♪ IN A BAR DOWN IN TEXAS IN A POOR PART OF TOWN ♪>>WAS ABOUT SECOND GRADE WHEN I REALIZED I WASN’T LIKE THE OTHER CHILDREN BECAUSE I HAD THIS ONE TEACHER THAT HOSTED A TALENT DAY AND SHE WOULD HAVE ALL THE KIDS GET UP AND DO SOMETHING IN FRONT OF THE CLASS. THE BOYS WOULD GET UP, THEY WOULD RAP AND, YOU KNOW, COMEDIANS WOULD DO ARM FARTS. AND, OF COURSE, ALL THE GIRLS, THE GIRLS WOULD GET UP AND THEY’D SING PRETTY LOVE SONGS. I WAS WATCHING THIS, AND I’M LIKE, WELL, I CAN’T SING PRETTY AND I DON’T KNOW HOW TO RAP SO WHAT AM I GOING TO DO? SO, I GET UP THERE FINALLY, TOWARD THE END OF THE YEAR, I BUILT UP MY COURAGE, AND I GOT UP THERE AND I SAID: ♪ I’M A WOMAN I CAN MAKE LOVE TO A CROCODILE ♪ IT WAS AN OLD KOKO TAYLOR SONG. I GOT MYSELF IN A LOT OF TROUBLE. MY MOM HAD TO COME TO SCHOOL AND EXPLAIN TO THE TEACHER THAT I WAS A BLUES SINGER. THAT’S ALL SHE SAID. LIKE THAT WAS GONNA HELP MY, MY CAUSE. I HAD TO GET THE WHOLE, “IT’S NOT APPROPRIATE TO SING THAT IN CLASS,” UH, SPEECH. ALTHOUGH MY MOM WAS VERY PROUD OF ME.>>Reporter: HER FATHER HAD CAUSE TO BE PROUD AS WELL. HE WAS THE TEXAS BLUES STAR JOHNNY COPELAND, HIS COMPOSITION “GHETTO CHILD” IS ONE SHEMEKIA STILL SINGS TODAY. ♪ LITTLE BOY STANDING ON THE CORNER ♪ SOMEBODY PLEASE WON’T YOU LEND A HAND ♪>>ACTUALLY, MY FIRST SHOW I EVER DID OUT IN PUBLIC WAS AT THE COTTON CLUB. I WAS ABOUT 10 YEARS OLD. WHEN MY DAD SAW ME SITTING IN THE AUDIENCE HE STARTED PLAYING THIS SONG THAT HE WROTE FOR ME, CALLED “STINGY.” I’VE NEVER RECORDED IT, BUT, UH, THE LYRICS ARE “I GOT A BOY SWEET AS HE COULD BE, THE ONLY FLAW HE GOT THAT I CAN SEE IS HE TOO STINGY, STINGY WITH THE LOVE FOR ME. AND SO HE STARTED PLAYING THAT SONG, AND I KNEW IT. I WAS LIKE, OH MY GOD, HE’S GONNA MAKE ME COME UP AND SING IN FRONT OF ALL THESE PEOPLE. OH, LORD. (LAUGHS) AND HE DID.>>Reporter: BLUES FANS ARE GLAD HE DID, BECAUSE SHEMEKIA COPELAND HAS CHARTED A COURSE PUSHING THE BLUES TOWARD NEW GROUND, THOUGH THAT WOULDN’T HAPPEN RIGHT AWAY. YOUR FIRST RECORD SEEMED TO DEAL WITH LOVE GONE WRONG AND THE THINGS THAT BLUES SINGERS HAVE BEEN SINGING ABOUT FOR 100 YEARS.>>RIGHT, YEAH.>>Reporter: WAS THAT BY DESIGN, WERE YOU TRYING TO BE A TRADITIONALIST FOR LACK OF A BETTER WORD?>>NO, I WAS JUST SINGING ABOUT WHAT I KNEW ABOUT AT THE TIME. WHEN YOU’RE 18 YEARS OLD, IT’S JUST, YOU KNOW, YOUR LITTLE RELATIONSHIPS AND LOSS, YOU KNOW, THE LOSS OF MY FATHER AND LIFE THINGS.>>Reporter: JOHNNY COPELAND PASSED AWAY IN 1997. HE DIDN’T GET TO SEE HIS DAUGHTER EARN HER FIRST GRAMMY NOMINATION IN 2001 AT JUST 21 YEARS OLD. AND THAT WAS THE ALBUM WHERE YOU DID A DUET WITH RUTH BROWN.>>YEAH.>>Reporter: AND THE SONG WAS ABOUT HOW ALL OF US MEN ARE LIARS.>>YOU COULD TELL A MAN IS LYING IF YOU SEE HIM MOVE HIS LIPS, YEAH.>>HEY SHEMEKIA, I HEAR YOU GOT YOURSELF A NEW MAN.>>YEAH, RUTH, I DO.>>WELL, YOU DON’T SOUND TOO HAPPY.>>WELL, I THINK HE’S BEEN LYING TO ME.>>IF HE’S A MAN YOU CAN BE SURE HE’S LYING. BUT COME ON, TELL RUTH THE TRUTH.>>Reporter: RUTH BROWN IS FAR FROM THE ONLY OLDER STAR TO NOTICE COPELAND’S TALENT AND TO WORK WITH HER. OTHERS INCLUDE DR. JOHN, B.B. KING, CARLOS SANTANA AND BUDDY GUY. STILL, SHE IS VERY MUCH AN ARTIST OF HER GENERATION, WORKING WITH SONGWRITERS TO PUSH BLUES LYRICS INTO 21st CENTURY TERRITORY. FOR EXAMPLE, IN THE SONG “AIN’T GONNA BE YOUR TATTOO,” SHE TOOK ON THE SUBJECT OF DATE RAPE. ♪ JUST WHAT I SAID WRONG IS ANYBODY’S GUESS ♪ BUT THE BRUISE ON MY FACE WAS AS BLUE AS MY DRESS ♪>>AND THAT’S MY WAY OF HELPING THE GENRE BLOSSOM AND GROW BY MAKING IT MORE CONTEMPORARY WITH MORE CONTEMPORARY LYRICS.>>Reporter: AND WHEN YOU SING SONGS ABOUT A SUBJECT LIKE DATE RAPE, DO YOU HEAR FROM YOUR FANS?>>OH, GOD, I KNOW I’M DOING THE RIGHT THING. ♪ AIN’T GONNA BE YOUR TATTOO END UP FADED AND BLUE ♪>>I REMEMBER STANDING IN A– IT’S CALLED CITY WINERY IN CHICAGO, AND THIS WOMAN CAME UP TO ME AND SHE SAID, “I HAD BEEN IN AN ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP FOR MANY YEARS AND WE HAD JUST GOTTEN INTO A PHYSICAL ALTERCATION. I GOT IN MY CAR,” AND SHE SAID, “I HEARD THAT SONG AND I NEVER WENT BACK TO HIM AGAIN.” SHE’S CRYING, I’M CRYING. WE’RE ALL A MESS. I’M ABOUT TO CRY NOW, JUST THINKING ABOUT IT. AND THEN SHE INTRODUCED ME TO HER NEW HUSBAND AND SHE SAID, “THIS IS ALL BECAUSE OF YOU,” AND I, I WAS DONE. I WAS LIKE, OH MY GOD. YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN?>>Reporter: HER LATEST RELEASE, “AMERICA’S CHILD,” CAN BE HEARD AS A KIND OF PLEA FOR PEOPLE OF ALL STRIPES TO RESPECT EACH OTHER. ♪ FREE TO BE YOU AND ME ♪>>EVERYBODY IS SO OBSESSED WITH PEOPLE’S DIFFERENCES. IT’S WHAT MAKES AMERICA, AMERICA.>>Reporter: YOU SING ABOUT A LEFT WING LIBERAL GEEK…>>MARRIED TO A REDNECK CREEK, YEAH.>>Reporter: AND THAT IS ONLY ONE OF THE MANY CHARACTERS WHO RUN THROUGH THAT SONG.>>EXACTLY.>>Reporter: YOU SING ABOUT A TRANSGENDER SUGAR DADDY RIDING IN A PURPLE CANDY.>>YEAH.>>Reporter: THERE IS REALLY A LOT OF DIVERSITY IN THE COUNTRY AND YOU’RE SINGING ABOUT IT.>>YEAH, I AM, I AM. SOMEBODY’S GOTTA DO IT. ♪ LISTEN HERE BLACK AND WHITE ♪ BLACK AND WHITE BROWN OR TAN ♪ BROWN OR TAN EVERY WOMAN ♪ EVERY WOMAN CHILD AND MAN ♪ CHILD AND MAN RICH OR POOR ♪ RICH OR POOR GAY AND STRAIGHT ♪ WE AIN’T GOT TIME FOR HATE ♪>>AND THIS SONG IS IT’S, IT’S ABOUT MY SON. I HAVE A LITTLE BOY. UM, AND HIS NAME IS JOHNNY AND HE IS AMAZING.>>Reporter: AND NAMED AFTER YOUR FATHER?>>NAMED AFTER MY FATHER. I HAD HIM AND MY LIFE CHANGED. ♪ ♪ ♪ I THINK THAT I ALWAYS WANTED TO TALK ABOUT ISSUES. UH, AND I WANTED TO HELP PEOPLE, BUT NEVER REALLY FELT LIKE I WANTED TO CHANGE ANYTHING OR NEVER FELT LIKE ICOULDCHANGE ANYTHING. ♪ WE’RE ALL BORN THEN WE DIE ♪>>AND WHEN HE WAS BORN, I FELT LIKE I WANTED TO IN SOME SMALL WAY TRY TO CHANGE THE WORLD. AND I STILL FEEL THAT WAY. ♪ SOME IN MANSIONS AND SOME IN MUD ♪>>Reporter: AND DO YOU RUN INTO TRADITIONALISTS WHO THINK YOU’RE ON TERRITORY YOU SHOULDN’T BE ON?>>OF COURSE, OF COURSE, THERE’S ALWAYS PEOPLE THAT, YOU KNOW, ARE NOT– THAT WISH I WOULD DO, YOU KNOW, REMAKE KOKO TAYLOR RECORDS FOR MY ENTIRE LIFE. BUT THE ONE THING THAT KOKO TAYLOR ALWAYS TOLD ME IS THAT SHE LOVED ME BECAUSE I’M DOING MY OWN THING. ♪ WE AIN’T GOT TIME FOR HATE AND I AIN’T GOT TIME ♪ AIN’T GOT TIME AIN’T GOT TIME FOR HATE ♪

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