Shemekia Copeland, photo by Mike White

Bringing the Blues to Oregon

Shemekia Copeland to perform virtually for OSU's American String Series

In her more-than-20-year career, blues singer Shemekia Copeland has not been one to shy away from addressing difficult subjects in her music. And in the era of unprecedented times and uncertainty, Copeland’s newest album brings a needed clarity to issues facing America today.

Copeland will discuss her 2020 album Uncivil War and perform several songs at a live virtual event hosted by the Oregon State University College of Liberal Arts on Feb. 17. The webcast will feature Copeland as a part of the college’s American Strings Series — segments of music and conversation by artists across various genres. 

“We will be talking about the latest album Uncivil War,” Copeland says in a phone interview about the event. “We finished this project at the end of 2019, and had no idea what was in store for 2020.” Despite the challenge of releasing music in the last year, Copeland says she is proud of the record, which was nominated for five Blues Music Awards.

Previously, Copeland was nominated for three Grammy Awards including best blues album. Her music takes on the deep and personal tones of traditional and electronic blues with influences of R&B.

 Her project Uncivil War tells different stories of troubling times in America including topics of climate change, violence and racism. The song “Clotilda’s on Fire” discusses a shipwrecked vessel that is thought to be the last slave ship to bring African captives to America. 

The song’s emotional and haunting lyrics describe the atrocities of the ship and what it meant for those on board. Copeland’s rich voice brings the song to life as she sings, “Born to steal bodies, born to sell, she had her own special place in hell. Clotilda’s on fire off the Alabama coast.”

Other songs, like “Money Makes You Ugly, discuss greed. The title track draws parallels between racism and division in America’s past and today, mentioning that the old wounds are still opened. In the song, Copeland wonders how long the uncivil war and the fighting will continue.

Uncivil War is about what is going on in our country,” Copeland says. 

Her previous music also brings in themes of issues and racism in America. She says that she will keep using music to tackle these discussions. 

“I’m Black in America so racism is something I have to deal with all the time. I’ll keep making music like that until it doesn’t happen anymore.” She doesn’t think that will happen in her lifetime, based on current events. “But I’m always hopeful,” Copeland says.

She adds that this is her second virtual performance since COVID-19. Though she misses live shows and audiences, she is excited and happy to be doing this show.

Copeland performs virtually at 5 pm on Wednesday, Feb. 17. Register at to receive a free link to watch the webcast.