Award-winning artist Shemekia Copeland remains optimistic and says she uses prayer as her secret weapon. We spoke with Copeland about her latest album, Done Come Too Far, and how her music has helped bring harmony to broken relationships, why she chooses to support Thistle Farms, how cancer has made her appreciate every bite of life’s sandwich, and much more.
5 Questions with Shemekia Copeland by Sam Shansky
1) Your songs, including those on your most recent album release, Done Come Too Far, are often very relevant to today’s struggles, ranging from racism to gun violence to drug and alcohol addiction. Do you maintain a sense of optimism, and could you share a time when you saw your music bring people of opposing opinions into harmony?
Absolutely I am optimistic. I get tremendous positive feedback from fans. One woman came up to me at a recent concert and said I helped her change her husband’s racist attitude. He had heard my song, “Would You Take My Blood,” and it greatly affected him… made him think. He’s now started to change, and this woman was so grateful she stood there and cried. It was a wonderful moment to see how a single song could change a life.
Bonus: Are any causes or organizations close to your heart that you feel people should know about or get involved with?
There’s an incredible organization in Nashville called Thistle Farms, which John Prine’s wife Fiona introduced me to. They help what we used to call wayward women… prostitutes, addicts, and convicts find jobs and return to a more productive life. Most importantly, they give them back their self-esteem.
2) Do the ideas or concepts behind a song carry more significance to you than the melody and musical delivery, or do they all play an equal part?
You obviously can’t have a great song without a wonderful melody, but to me, the lyrics, the story, the message is what really drives a song. I suppose that makes me old fashioned these days, but that’s the way I feel.
3) What is an important life lesson you recently learned, and how has it affected your connection to music?
Last year, I was diagnosed with cancer and had part of a kidney removed. They say they got it all. I pray they did. I have since learned to appreciate every bite of life’s sandwich.
Bonus: What are some practices you’re currently dedicated to that help you attain inner peace?
I don’t inflict my faith on other people but I’m a strong believer. My secret weapon is prayer.
4) To bring this new album to life, you worked with a fairly large group of collaborators, including Sonny Landreth, Charles Hodges, Pat Sansone, Cedric Burnside, and many others. In those collaborations, was there anyone or anything that surprised you?
Nothing really surprised me because I’ve already know these guys from the road. Each is wonderful and so generous to help me out. Sonny is just the greatest slide in the world. Cedric is like a brother, so warm and friendly. It was an honor to play with Charles after all those fantastic Al Green records. And Pat Sansone can play any instrument and make magic come out of it.
5) Could you speak on the inspiration for the song “Gullah Geechee” and explain the significance of why the banjo is utilized on that track specifically and not on the rest of the record?
John Hahn wrote this song after a trip to South Carolina where he visited some old slave quarters and was deeply moved. He knew my family originally came from there. So the lyrics hit home for me. The African gourd banjo just seemed like the natural way to go. Those blacks invented what became traditional banjo music.
Bonus: Do you have a favorite song from the new record, and could you explain why it stands out to you?
I have a beautiful five-year-old boy. I love him beyond words. But whenever I see police shootings, I worry about him. Please don’t misunderstand. I am definitely not anti-police. But we all know it only takes one bad apple to change a life. I have already had the talk with my son and will continue to. It’s a heavier song than I usually like to do but it’s important.