Blues legends Sugaray Rayford and Shemekia Copeland rock Jefferson Center

Shemekia Copeland and Sugaray Rayford

by Shawn Nowlin

The Shaftman Performance Hall at Jefferson Center was once again alive with the sounds of some really rockin “Bluesy/R&B” if there is such a thing. Those in attendance got to experience arguably the bestsuch a genre has to offer as Shemekia Copeland and Sugaray Rayford, both Grammy-nominated musicians, took center stage April 22. For nearly three hours, Copeland and Rayford effortlessly showed why both have been described as “high-octane performers” by some of the nation’s leading music publications. Said Rolling Stone Magazine a few years ago, “Shemekia Copeland is a powerhouse, a superstar. She can do no wrong.” Of Rayford, Goldmine Magazine wrote, “Dude sings like Otis Redding and Muddy Waters, yet can dance like James Brown.” Yes Brown was the “king” particularly considering his stage dynamics and dance moves. However Rayford, aka “Sugar Ray” had this crazy cool “wiggle-strut” move he’d often break into that would totally send his performance in to overdrive. Two years ago, Copeland was presented with a Blues Music Award in the prestigious ‘Contemporary Blues Female Artist of the Year’ category. Each musician referenced the thrill of performing live multiple times during their sets in addition to the loneliness they’ve experienced due to the pandemic. Copeland was just 18 when she recorded Turn the Heat Up, her debut LP. During her hour-long set she performed at least one track from all ten of her studio albums. DNA dictates the Blues as Copeland’s father was the late Blues singer and guitarist Johnny Copeland. Inspirational messages such as “Ain’t Got Time for Hate,” were also highlighted during Copeland’s set. She later explained that the message was inspired by her son, who was born five years ago. Reminiscing on her childhood, Copeland told the audience, “When I was a little girl, I used to visit my grandmother Jesse. She was a saved woman from Walstonburg, North Carolina. She went to church 28 days a week and often took me with her. I didn’t mind because that church was like nothing I’d ever experienced. When those folks got together to praise the Lord, they’d be singing, shouting and dancing. It was wild and crazy.” At one show-stopping point Copeland stopped the music, stood center stage and rocked the wall of the hall in an incredibly profound moment melodically testifying to being a ‘Getto Child,” – one of her most moving and popular songs. At the beginning of his set, Rayford, who stands 6’5 and weighs around 300 pounds, stopped and ordered the audience to dance in front of the stage which they did vigorously. He performed many fan favorites in addition to a few cuts off his latest album, In Too Deep. Never was the crowd louder than when Rayford brought out iconic Roanoke trumpet player Elmer Coles to join the ensemble on stage. “Mr. Coles, you’ve been the man for a long time,” Rayford said. “I couldn’t come to Roanoke and not ask you to sit up here with us.” Kimberly Wilkins said April 22 was the first time she saw Shemekia or Sugaray in person but vowed that it won’t be the last. “I had an amazing time,” she said. “Definitely worth the price of admission. I am going to remember this experience for a long, long time.”

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