Folk-blues singer Michelle Shocked has quietly dropped plans to really live up to her name on her upcoming record of minstrel songs, Arkansas Traveler. In a move that would have alienated a sizable chunk of her rigorously PC fans, she wanted to pose in blackface for the cover art.
”That whole black-faced minstrelsy tradition is something we want to pretend never existed,” Shocked said a few months ago, ”but how can we just ignore it? Racism is something this album addresses, but from a politically incorrect angle.”
The record was recorded at studios and heritage festivals around the country between February and September, and includes legendary musicians like Doc Watson and Pop Staples. Some of Shocked’s collaborators, such as Texas bluesman Clarence ”Gatemouth” Brown, respectfully disagreed with her blackface concept. He called Shocked to advise against it. ”The world wouldn’t understand,” says Brown. ”All it would do is make her seem a racist. I told her the best way to fight racism is through her music, in a positive way.”
Apparently Shocked was concerned enough about her fans’ reaction to ”test the waters” on a 10-city tour this fall. In late November Shocked decided to drop the idea, although her label, Mercury Records, says it would have supported her decision either way. Due in March 1992, Arkansas Traveler’s cover will simply feature Shocked in a colorful stage setting.