Born Clarence Greenwood, his life journey is as singular as his art. He is the radically mashed-up product of Greenville, Mississippi; Memphis, Tennessee; Vernon, Texas; Austin, Texas; Washington, DC; and Brooklyn, New York. These locations are felt everywhere in his stories. His sounds are southern rural, big sky lonely, concrete urban, and painfully romantic.
Cope’s musical education was catch-as-catch can. Folk tales—whether through William Faulkner or Big Bill Broonzy—shaped his sensitivity. He took sound classes and found himself fooling with a primitive four-track setup. Turntables intrigued him. He heard hip-hop as inspired invention. He got lost in his self-designed lab, cooking up beats and motifs that only later would be shaped into songs.
Vocalist Michel Ivey recruited him as a mad scientist who feverishly created samples for the artsy-edgy group, Basehead, and while Cope played in local venues, the writer/producer found his own voice.
Citizen Cope introduces us to a world of musical worry that doesn’t come fully into focus until his second album, The Clarence Greenwood Recordings, which this year will celebrate it’s 10 year anniversary with a nationwide tour with the full band. That album with his following two records, form a masterful trilogy.
Art requires defense. Without art, we can’t cope. But Cope’s art isn’t the high art of elitism; it’s the art of funk. It’s the art that paints a penitentiary on fire; the art that gets you through hurricane waters yet puts you between the bullet and the target. The voice of the singer—as messy as it is precise, as eloquent as it is enigmatic—is wholly hypnotic.
In 2014 Greenwood began working with The President’s Committee on the Arts & Humanities and First Lady Michelle Obama in her initiative Turnaround Arts, as an Ambassador with the organization (along side other artists including Elton John, Sarah Jessica Parker, Trombone Shorty, Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kerry Washington and Alfre Woodard) to help narrow the achievement gap by increasing student engagement and improving the culture and climate in the country’s highest poverty schools.
From day one, Citizen Cope/Clarence Greenwood has taken his case to the people. Touring relentlessly, he has brought his stories—with a band or simply with his guitar—to every venue that would have him. His motivation to make music directly in front of people, no matter the size of the crowd, has won him a vast audience in America and abroad. As a troubadour, he has prospered, tirelessly criss-crossing the land, his songs in his back pocket. Citizen Cope is a self-realized musical/poetic/production entity. In that sense, his Americanism is profound. His accountability is to his own heart, his own values and his own vision.