She was born Karen Michelle Johnston on February 24, 1962, in Dallas, Texas, the daughter of a carpenter and a woman who would end up committing her to a psychiatric hospital twenty-something years later. She graduated from high school in Gilmer, Texas and got her bachelor's degree in the Oral Interpretation of Poetry from the University of Texas in Austin.
Her stage name dates back to the name she gave when arrested in 1984 at a protest for fair housing during the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco, California. Her nickname was 'Chel, so Michelle Shocked was a deliberate play on words.
2002 with the release of Deep Natural, Michelle established her own label, Mighty Sound. She plans to re-issue expanded versions of her entire catalog, a plan made possible by having been sharp enough to retain ultimate ownership of her work when she signed with Mercury Records in 1987. The label got her work for a ten-year period. After litigation which dates back to Mercury's refusal to release a gospel record she wanted to work on, ownership has now reverted back to her. As of 2003, she has released the following: