Shemekia Copeland

Photo by Mike White.

Shemekia Copeland has dazzled crowds around the world with her soulful voice and raw stage talent, along with her unique blend of soul, country and blues music. The Grammy-nominated singer hails from New York City, though she’s called the Windy City her home for the past 12 years. We caught up with Shemekia as she prepares for her highly-anticipated performance at Lyric Opera’s Chicago Voices Concert, which will also feature Jessie Mueller, John Prine, Michelle Williams and more.

Make It Better: How did you become a part of the incredible Chicago Voices Concert lineup?

Shemekia Copeland: They got in contact with my manager, and we were just really excited about it! I love Renee Fleming, and to be [in] her presence and all these other talented artists is just amazing. At first when I got the call, we didn’t even know who else would be performing, but when I started to see all the folks who would be included, I was so excited! I’m a huge fan of John Prine as well.

Can you tease what you will be performing? Will you be collaborating with other artists during the concert?

There will be a lot of collaborations! And that’s the best part about this. You’ve got the folk singers, Broadway singers, opera singers and blues singers. And we’ll all be mixing and mingling! We’ll even be doing tributes to great Chicago artists, like Muddy Waters, who of course is the father of modern Chicago blues. There will be a lot of cool things happening.

Where did your passion for blues and soul come from?

My father was from Texas, and he grew up there. He was a big fan of country music. He became a blues guitarist, but he was also a soul singer and a country writer all in one. Because of him, I always listened to country music. My mother is from North Carolina, and she brings in that old soul music. I grew up in New York, so there’s the urban part! So it’s a good mix of music I listened to growing up and where I lived, and that had a big impact on my artistry. You can’t grow up in New York and not have an urban style to your music. The older I got, the more I started listening to world music. I love Brazilian samba, as well as music from Mali, a country in Africa. It just gets me. I just love world music of all kinds. I’m a blues singer, and a very proud blues singer at that, but I don’t feel like that should limit me.

You’re from New York City but you’ve lived in Chicago the past 12 years. How do the music scenes compare? 

To me, the music scene in New York changed a lot. When I was young it was amazing. They had all kinds of clubs and bars for music, but then the city started cleaning up its act. When that happened, all these cabaret clubs and other joints were shut down. New York lost a lot of its cool local bars. And now, the only places are the expensive places. Here in Chicago, the music scene is so much better. We still have those local bars. You still have the blues clubs, and places like Kingston Mines, Buddy Guy’s Legends and Rosa’s Lounge.

What are your favorite Chicago spots to check out when you’re not busy entertaining?

When I go out, I love City Winery and Buddy Guy’s Legends. I just like to get out and see music and acts. But Chicago also has such a great food scene! I was recently at Gus’s Fried Chicken for the Women’s March. I also love Emilio’s Tapas. My favorite place, by far, is La Scarola! It’s homemade Italian food, and I invite everyone from out of town to go there, and it always gets rave reviews.

What are some causes and charities that are close to your heart?

Zacharias Sex Abuse Center is one organization that I support. I also am a part of the Blues in the Schools foundation, which I’ve been doing for years.

That’s amazing. How did that come about?

Teachers and schools have contacted me throughout the years, so I’ve done that all over the country and even internationally. We go to schools and play for them and teach them about music. We got to go to a school in a small town in France once, and we’ve done it in the United Kingdom. It’s been amazing. I also do a lot of workshops for college students at different universities, which I love.


Make It Better is a proud media sponsor of the Chicago Voices Concert, which will take place Feb. 4 at Lyric’s Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago. Learn more and buy tickets here.

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