Shemekia Copeland In The Spotlight
Award-winning and internationally acclaimed blues star set to display her talent at City Winery
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THERE is a strong, artistic connection between the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Chicago, one that began 47 years ago and will continue when the world-renowned dance company appears at the Auditorium Theatre from March 22 through March 26. Led by Robert Battle, its artistic director, dance enthusiasts will experience the beauty, grace and precision of the dancers who will perform a repertory that blends ballet, modern dance, jazz and elements of African dance.
During its run in Chicago, “America’s Cultural Ambassadors to the World” will feature (along with the longtime favorite Revelations) three world premieres, two company premieres and select productions that, Battle says, have made “audiences sit up and look at the company in a different way.”
Ailey and a group of young, black modern dancers performed for the first time as members of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at New York's 92nd Street YM-YWH. Battle is only the third person to lead the historic company since it was founded in 1958. The dancer and choreographer took over as head of the company in 2011 after being personally selected by his iconic predecessor, Judith Jamison, an internationally celebrated dancer in the company before taking the company’s helm after Ailey died. Battle has continued to offer selections that are breathing new life into the company, including presentations such as The Winter in Lisbon and Masekela Langage, a 32-minute-long presentation that’s set to the music of trumpeter Hugh Masekela and highlights similarities between the period of South African apartheid and the race-inspired violence of 1960s Chicago.
Whenever there are new presentations added to the repertory, Battle says he is always mindful of the necessity to remain true to the company’s incredible legacy.
The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, recognized by U.S. Congressional resolution as a vital American “Cultural Ambassador to the World,” has performed for more than 23 million people in 48 states and in 71 countries on six continents, celebrating the African-American cultural experience and the American modern dance tradition.
The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's program will include (below) The Winter in Lisbon, performed by Akua Noni Parker and Michael Jackson Jr. (Photograph by Paul Kolnik)
SHEMEKIA COPELAND, hailed as “The New Queen of The Blues” by the State of Illinois in 2011, comes by her love for the blues naturally, following in the big footsteps of her musician father, the late Johnny Clyde Copeland, named the 1983 Blues Entertainer of the Year by the Blues Foundation and known for songs such as “Black Cat Bone,” “Cut Off My Right Arm” and “T-bone Shuffle.”
Although her guitarist/singer father set the bar high, Shemekia has carved out her own niche in the musical landscape with a unique voice that is powerful enough for the blues, smooth enough for love ballads and soulfully moving enough for the inspiration of gospel. Simply put, that’s who Shemekia Copeland is––a blend of talent that thrusts her to the level of one-of-a-kind.
Copeland will bring that musical mix to Chicago when she steps on stage December 9 at City Winery, a venue where many of the music world’s best and legendary figures have performed. Armed with an award-winning repertoire of music, the eight-time winner of Blues Music Awards has many ways to grab the crowd, beginning with tunes from her acclaimed 2016 Outskirts of Love CD, a Grammy-nominated collection of songs that’s still generating accolades from fans and reviewers alike.
After taking time off to give birth to her son, Johnny Lee Copeland-Schultz, the New York City native is back to what she has been doing since her father recognized the enormous talent in his 8-year-old daughter and brought her on stage to sing at Harlem’s famous Cotton Club. By 16, Shemekia had joined her ailing father on his tours and sometimes stole the show (to her father’s delight). He pushed her to become the performer she is, one who is an international star with her music celebrated by fans of all ages.
In a career that has earned her numerous awards, the opportunities to sing with some of music’s biggest performers––Mick Jagger, B.B. King, Bonnnie Raitt, Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Carlos Santana––and a White House performance for President and Mrs. Obama, Shemekia Copeland has covered much ground since she was a shy little girl who had to be pushed by her father to exhibit her incredible gift. “Dad would go out and do gigs just so I would get the exposure,” says Copeland, who skillfully has been able to balance motherhood and touring. “I want to keep singing about things that are important to me, and right now, I’m making the most exciting music of my career.”
What an upcoming treat for the City Winery crowd.
For tickets and more information, go to www.citywinery.com.
Photograph courtesy of Shemekia Copeland