The Blues Foundation has rescinded Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s 2021 Blues Music Awards nomination for best blues/rock artist based on what it calls “continuing revelations of representations of the Confederate flag on Shepherd’s ‘General Lee’ car, guitars and elsewhere.”
The Blues Foundation has also asked the performer’s father, Ken Shepherd, to step down as a member of its board of directors.
The move echoes the Academy of Country Music’s decision to not allow Morgan Wallen to compete for this year’s awards after a video surfaced of him using the N-word. The Blues Foundation’s need to disassociate itself from racist imagery is especially vital because the blues genre is unimaginable without Black artists and composers.
The foundation said its decision to rescind the nomination is in keeping with its statement against racism, posted March 15, which asserts “The Blues Foundation unequivocally condemns all forms and expressions of racism, including all symbols associated with white supremacy and the degradation of people of color. We will hold ourselves as well as all blues musicians, fans, organizations, and members of the music industry accountable for racist actions and encourage concrete commitments to acknowledge and redress the resulting pain.”
Shepherd’s name has already been removed from the foundation’s list of nominees in the category. The four remaining nominees are Tinsley Ellis, Reverend Peyton, Ana Popovic and Mike Zito.
Shepherd has responded to the move in a statement on his website: “I have just learned that the executive committee of the Blues Foundation board of directors has made the decision to rescind my nomination for the 2021 blues rock artist of the year award.
“We have been told this decision has been made because, in recent days, concerns have been raised regarding one of the cars in my muscle car collection. The car was built 17 years ago as a replica and homage to the iconic car in the television series, The Dukes of Hazzard. That CBS show was one of the highest rated and most popular programs of its era and like millions of others, I watched it every week. In the show, one of the central ‘characters’ was a muscle car which displayed a confederate flag on its roof. Years ago I put that car in permanent storage and some time ago, I made the decision to permanently cover the flag on my car because it was completely against my values and offensive to the African American community which created the music I love so much and I apologize to anyone that I have unintentionally hurt because of it.
“I want to make something very clear and unequivocal; I condemn and stand in complete opposition to all forms of racism and oppression and always have.”
Shepherd is correct that The Dukes of Hazzard, a comedy/adventure series that ran from 1979 to 1985, was a smash hit. Its ratings peaked in the 1980-81 season, when it was second only to Dallas in the Nielsen ratings. Shepherd was 8 years old when the show ended its run on CBS.
The current controversy was flamed by Mercy Morganfield, daughter of legendary bluesman Muddy Waters, who wrote a long social media post (originally on her Facebook and reposted via Reddit) titled “The Way My Daddy Looks At a White Man Winning a Blues Foundation Music Award While Waving A F*****g Confederate Flag.”
Shepherd has received two Blues Music Awards, the Blues Foundation’s Keeping The Blues Alive award, two Billboard Music Awards and a pair of Orville H. Gibson awards. He received five Grammy nominations between 1998 and 2010 but has yet to win.
The decisions regarding Shepherd and Wallen underscore how much times have changed in recent decades. Alabama, the hottest country act of the 1980s, had Confederate flag imagery prominently featured on the covers of three albums — My Home’s in Alabama (1980), Mountain Music (1982) and Roll On (1984) — in the same time frame that The Dukes of Hazzard was a smash TV show. The album covers caused little controversy at the time. Now, no act would dream of doing such a thing.
Current country superstar Luke Combs spoke last month about his previous use of Confederate flag imagery, saying there’s “no excuse” for it in this day and age. “I think as a younger man, that was an image I associated to mean something else, and as I’ve grown in my time as an artist and as the world has changed drastically in the last five to seven years, you know, I’m now aware of how painful that image can be to someone else.”