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Interview:
Michelle Shocked Takes Her Listeners To Church
 

By GARY GRAFF
Of the Oakland Press

» See more SOUND CHECK

Grammy-winning singersongwriter Michelle Shocked’s new album, “ToHeavenURide,” is more than just an unearthed recording from her 2003 performance at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. It’s also an opportunity for her to make a rare public statement about her spirituality.

“As a friend put it, it’s caused me to come out of the closet,” says Shocked, 45, born Karen Michelle Johnston in Dallas and raised a “fundamentalist Mormon,” which she ultimately discarded and more recently embracing the Church of God in Christ in Los Angeles, where she’s part of the choir.

“I always kind of conceived for myself the role of a stealth Christian,” Shocked explains. “I just really admire people whose actions and temperament and behavior is so stellar that it causes you to say, ‘I wonder what they know? I wonder what inspires them? I wonder where she gets her strength from?’

“That’s my idea of a great question. It’s not that thing that annoys so many people — ‘If you don’t believe like I believe, then damn you ...’ ”

“ToHeavenURide” captures Shocked performing a gospeloriented set, though she incorporates what she considers “contemporary gospel songs” such as The Band’s “The Weight” and four of her own compositions alongside works by the Staple Singers, Billie Holiday and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Shocked also incorporates a bit of Detroit by included the buoyant Fred Hammond-composed Commissioned track “We’re Blessed.”

“There’s a real strong connection between Detroit and Los Angeles,” Shocked explains. “The bishop of my church (Charles E. Blake) married a Detroit gal named Mae Blake; her father was pastor of one of the large COGIC churches out there. So I think that has created something of a cultural exchange between our two cities, and I feel a real affinity for that song.”



Michelle Shocked performs at 8 p.m. Monday (Dec. 3) at The Ark, 316 S. Main St., Ann Arbor. Tickets are $25. Call (734) 761-1451 or visit www. theark.org.

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