Shemekia Copeland is an idiot. Or at least she says so.
"A lot of my family members can't believe that I do anything normal," says the 25-year-old blues vocalist. "They see me work and they're like, "I can't believe this is the same person who was being an idiot in the house.' I'm just goofy."
Appearances can be deceiving, because on stage the Harlem native is as cool and confident as the man who helped mold her into one of the premiere blues vocalists in the world-her late father, iconic blues guitarist Johnny Copeland.
Johnny wanted his daughter to be a great blues artist, but he "didn't want anyone to change me," his daughter says. So when her mother enrolled her in a performing-arts junior high school because "she thought regular junior high school sucked," her father was supportive but guided her to keep the "raw, natural talent."
"I was real raw," recalls Copeland, who has now won a Grammy, four W.C. Handy Blues Awards and five Living Blues awards. " I still remember my teacher-her name was Mrs. Byrne-she was such a pain in the butt, boy. I was dead set on being an alto because that's what I sang, and don't try to make me do anything else because I'm an alto. That woman had me singing high soprano-because alto would've just been way too easy for me. So I had a range that went from high soprano to low tenor. It was really cool."
Copeland remembers a lot of names-like blues legends Albert Collins and Johnny "Guitar" Watson, her father's friends who hung around the house. Like "Mr. John Beady," the owner of the Cotton Club who gave Copeland her first regular Sunday gig when she was only 8 years old.
Now, she's a headliner at blues festivals, an icon in the making for a genre that's been relegated to specialty radio shows and satellite radio, which Copeland really likes, "because they're playing the music." By her tone, you can tell she's not talking specifically about her music, but rather good music in general.
She pauses and sighs. "Oh, it's depressing," she says about the state of blues. "I love music, but I hate the music industry." BShemekia Copeland plays at Humphrey's Backstage Lounge, 7 p.m. on March 9. $25. 619-224-3577.