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A Funky New Blues

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It has been decades since young Black folks considered the blues to be hip. But 24-year-old blues diva Shemekia Copeland is on a lifelong mission to change all that. “If you ask me, everything is the blues,” she says. “I want people who love hip-hop to know where it came from.”

Born and raised in Harlem, Shemekia is the daughter of the late Grammy-winning Texas bluesman Johnny Clyde Copeland. At age 16, she started singing with him professionally. “I got a lot of my daddy’s phrasings,” she smiles. “He was a great entertainer. I learned from him that it doesn’t matter if you’re singing to ten people or to 10,000, when you step out onstage, give them everything from your soul.”

Last May, Shemekia won a W.C. Handy Blues Award for Best Contemporary Female Artist of the Year for her third album, Talking to Strangers. A heady blast of funky blues, rocking R&B and humid slow drags delivered with Queen Latifah–Mary J. Blige smirk and panache, Talking to Strangers renders the blues-mama–victim stereotype forever obsolete. “My blues is different, y’know. I’m singing about my era. I’m here and I’m singing about now and not yesterday. It’s a beautiful thing.”

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