It isn't easy to write this. Michael Cloeren was right when he messaged me the other day, "I'm too saddened over Sandra's passing to reflect at this time”. Michael, I feel the same way. I was at the Montclair Brewery on Sunday late afternoon, watching the Robert Hill Band tear up the outdoor stage for a " Blues and Brews " event for the North Jersey Blues Society. I got a message from my long-time friend Bonnie Auriemma - "Are You aware that Sandra Copeland passed away? Just saw this on Shemekia's FB page?" Stunned, barely able to speak, I blurted out to my wife at the end of the table, while my daughter and boyfriend looked at me, "Sandra died'. The tsunami of emotion erupted and the floodgates opened up. Trying to control myself, while my family looked on, trying to shield my emotions from the many customers around us, I just lost it all and cried uncontrollably. Like so many others who found out unexpectedly, shocked, stunned, filled with grief, Sandra Copeland had died, and we had lost an angel.
It isn't easy to write this. Tears are coming fast and furious now. We had met Johnny Copeland at many events and had become friends. Mrs. Copeland was always very nice to us. We were also fortunate to see Shemekia as a teen, opening up for her father before his own stage appearances - a young talent, a comet racing to stardom. Johnny Copeland did our engagement at a packed Old Bay in New Brunswick, New Jersey. In fact, since Johnny had just gotten out of the hospital, Kevin Williams, General Manager, was not even sure if he was going to be there for the concert event. It was a long week of back and forth with Kevin and the Copelands. Johnny loved the idea of doing the engagement. He was as excited as we were. Johnny and the band came through, a venue packed so tight that the Fire Marshall threatened to close it down. " There's a man here tonight who wants to ask his woman to marry him," Johnny said as he sat at the front of the small stage. Then Johnny began to sing our song, " Life's A Rainbow”. The rest is history now but the memories will last forever.
We became friends with the Copeland Family. They have always been a special part of our lives. Looking back now I remember all the years we hung out together at the Pocono Blues Festival, Sandra standing proud watching her daughter, Shemekia, without a microphone, take center stage and sing thunderously, echoing through the mountains, one of her daddy's songs. Sandra would tear up, get emotionally charged, a proud mama. I was right there next to her on so many of those occasions. Even when Shemekia did not appear at the festivals Sandra would be there to hang out with family members, since they had a house just down the road in Lake Harmony Pennsylvania. Mrs. Copeland always treated this skinny white boy - that Lil' Ed once called " A picture takin' mother F'er" - as one of the family. I was always invited to come over to the Lake Harmony house during the festival, or on other occasions throughout the year, but regrettably now, never did get there.
It isn't easy to write this. Being invited by Michael Cloeren to Shemekia 21st birthday party, an event filled with so many amazing family members and great friends, was an honor. I can still see Mrs. Copeland working at the small restaurant that she opened in Lake Harmony, Pennsylvania. My wife, Jackie, and I ate there on many occasions and enjoyed the good times vibe that everyone shared. Mrs. Copeland always treated everyone as family, as a close friend, much to the puzzled consternation of Grandma, or Shemekia's Aunt, who were oftentimes with Sandra. That's just who she was. When Arthur Neilson told me this week, " She made the best fried chicken I ever had!" he wasn't being facetious. That's just who she was.
Through Shemekia and the Copelands, we met long-time friends like Arthur Neilson, Dona Oxford, Randy Lippincott, Bobby Kyle, Floyd Phillips, Everett Boyd, SaRon Crenshaw, to name just a few. They certainly knew how to bring folks together.
I can still see the unbelievable reunion between Mrs. Copeland and Nancy Swarbrick at one of many festivals that we attended so many, many years ago. Both of them were friends but had not seen one another for some time. Life sometimes gets the better of you. The outpouring of emotions was torrential. Both women bear-hugging each other, tearing up, thrilled to see each other, laughing, talking, time just stood still for a while. Life-long friends who were there for each other time after time. That's who Sandra was.
Over the years we kept in touch. Mrs. Copeland was always excited to see the photos of my two children, Alana and Nicholas, as they grew up from infants to young adults. Every Christmas a card would arrive from the Copeland Family. Though we lost contact now and then, I would reach out through Shemekia, brother manager John Hahn, reach out to Bruce Iglauer at Alligator, or send mail, just to keep in touch.
Mrs. Copeland - Sandra Copeland - was an amazing person. She was the gold standard that we all looked up to. Dedicated mother, loving grandmother, loyal friend, her zest for life was infectious. It isn't easy to write all of this. She gave so much to so many, from family members to complete strangers. Everyone was made to be family, to be special, to be important. Yes, there are angels. I was lucky to have known one.
Paul Benjamin - North Atlantic Blues Festival Producer - "A sweet loving wife, mother and grandmother who will be missed by all who knew her. It was an honor to know her".
Bruce Iglauer and Alligator Records - " We're terribly sad that such a wonderful woman and great mentor for her daughter has passed. She could not have been a better mother".
With love - and many thanks - to the Copeland Family - Our support and our condolences go out to all of you - family and friends.
Author: John Muller