Blues singer has truth to tell

Shemekia Copeland will perform songs filled with meaning at 9 tonight at Capitol Theater.
Shemekia Copeland will perform songs filled with meaning at 9 tonight at Capitol Theater. CONTRIBUTED BY CAROL FRIEDMAN

Since she released her first album at age 19, blues singer Shemekia Copeland has found the voice of her truth.

On her fifth album, last year’s “Never Going Back,” the singer lets the music carry her message.

“On this record, I wanted to get rid of the background vocals and the piano and the organ and make it more about me and what I was saying,” said Copeland, now 31, who will sing at Olympia’s Capitol Theater tonight. “I figure at this age, I do have something to say.

“At 18 or 19, you don’t really have anything to say other than about relationships, but after you’ve lived in the world and been a part of the world, you have a lot more to say.”

Copeland, who’s been nominated for the 2010 Blues Music Award for best contemporary female artist, is no newcomer to the spotlight. Her second album, 2000’s “Wicked,” won three Handy awards (short for the Blues Music Awards which are widely regarded as the highest honor for blues artists in the United States) and was nominated for a Grammy. She’s shared the stage with the likes of B.B. King, Taj Mahal and John Mayer.

“Her powerhouse voice and sassy attitude had people calling her the new Queen of the Blues from the beginning,” Geoffrey Himes wrote in a Washington Post review of “Never Going Back.”

She’s certainly no newcomer to the blues. She grew up surrounded by the music, thanks to her father, the late blues guitarist Johnny Clyde Copeland, and began seriously pursuing singing at 15.

“I’ve been loving blues all my life, and I’ve been performing blues for most of my life,” she said. “My dad always played guitar around the house, and when I was like 3 years old, I would just sing along with him.

“I grew up in Harlem in the hip-hop era,” she added. “But I always came back to the blues. That’s what I wanted to hear.”

Now, she’s shining that spotlight on her truths. And there’s a lot she wants to say.

“I’m passionate about everything,” she said. “Iraq. Kuwait. I’m passionate about the young soldiers who are dying over there, and especially now in Afghanistan.

“I’m passionate about people lying to me, outright lying. Politicians lie; religious leaders lie. You don’t know who to listen to, and that’s just really sad.”

For Copeland, it’s about the simple truth.

“When I was a kid, my parents were always very honest with me,” she said. “When we went into the store, my mom would say, ‘I have to buy all of this stuff on this list, and if I have anything left over after we get all of the things that we need, then you and your brother can get something, but if we don’t then you can’t.’

“Even a child can understand honesty,” she added. “If they were more honest with us, no matter how hard that is, we could understand it and deal with it and move forward.”