Bay Area African American Women in Music: Sista Monica Saw No Contradiction in Blues and Gospel

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The late vocalist Sista Monica Parker was blessed with an uncanny power to move people. She could bring audiences to tears, whether belting the blues on nightclub and festival stages or wailing gospel songs in church.

 

Parker was inspired to become an entertainer in 1990 after seeing rising rapper M.C. Hammer – then her neighbor in a Fremont apartment complex – on “The Arsenio Hall Show.”

 

“I said to myself,” she recalled, “‘If he can do it, I can do it.’”

 

The onetime Marine Corps recruiter spent much of her last 27 years on the phone, however, as a corporate headhunter convincing software and web developers to fill jobs at firms such as Hewlett Packard, Apple, Yahoo and Amazon.

 

“I can persuade people to do things on the telephone that I can’t in an e-mail,” Parker told this writer two months prior to succumbing to lung cancer on October 9 of last year at 58. “They can hear my voice inflections and some authority in there, and suggestions and advice.”

 

Parker traced her powers of persuasion to two summers she spent at 12 and 13 years old as the first “Popsicle girl” in her native Gary, Indiana, with Tastee’s Popsicles.

 

“That was the first time I had the opportunity to be a salesperson,” she said. “I learned how to sell and convince people to do things.”

 

Parker, who began singing in church at age 7, always ended her blues shows with a gospel song. She formed a blues band and played her first gig in 1992 in Santa Cruz.

 

She developed an affinity for blues after attending the Chicago Blues Festival and found no contradiction in mixing the two idioms.

 

“Blues has some of the same rhythms and chord changes that gospel does,” she explained. “There’s a lot of truth in both blues and gospel. That’s why I write both. Maya Angelou said, ‘People don’t think about what you say; they think about how you make them feel.’ I would like to make people feel uplifted and hopeful.”

 

Parker subsequently issued 11 CDs on her own Mo Muscle record label – nine of them blues and soul, two gospel.

 

“The different emotions she would take an audience through during a performance – from happiness to sadness – were just really wonderful,” said Leon Joyce Jr., her drummer for three years, shortly after Parker passed.

 

Parker announced her illness on Facebook several days before her final performance at Yoshi’s on September 2. With the aid of an oxygen tank, she performed for a packed audience of friends, family and fans. There was hardly a dry eye in the house by the time the show was over.

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