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Parks: “I think this illness was supposed to happen, because everything has worked out.”

Multi-instrumentalist Rachella Parks is slowly regaining her strength after a 10-year battle with sarcoidosis, a rare and incurable disease that caused her fatigue, pain, joint degeneration, and memory loss. The symptoms began to subside about a year ago, perhaps as a result of steroid treatments begun years earlier, allowing the 53-year-old Fort Worth native to throw herself back into completing her first album.

Set to be released on Saturday, Meditation Inspirational Suite is “the story of me going through this struggle,” Parks said. “The intention behind the album is to tell folks that you can overcome anything. You’ve either gone through something, you’re going through something, or you are going to go through something.”
Recorded over years at multiple locations, the album is mostly straight-ahead, and it is through-composed, meaning sections do not repeat. The Suite also has moments of blues, gospel, and even pop.

Growing up on the South Side, Parks was always glued to her radio. “I’d find those old radio stations,” she said. “I was attracted to doo-wop. Many of those tunes had strings in them. I was really attracted to those arrangements.”

Parks is known primarily as a saxophonist, but she’s played pretty much everything. In 5th grade at Morningside Elementary School, she expressed her interest in joining the school band. Her mother bought her a clarinet from a pawn shop. Parks fell in love with the woodwind’s hauntingly beautiful, reedy sound. She moved to bass clarinet later that year, to fill an empty chair. She switched to baritone sax in 10th grade at Polytechnic High School before finally settling on her instrument of choice, tenor saxophone.

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Not long after graduation, she got her first taste of jazz. The location was The Pink Lady on the South Side.

The music blew her away, she said.

She was also mesmerized by Maurice Bonner, a local gospel organist who often performed at the Lady. “I was already interested in gospel music,” Parks said. “Organ is a powerful and emotional instrument.”

Parks began taking lessons from Bonner. She also began playing in the praise band at Saintsville Baptist Church.

Encouraged by her parents, she earned her bachelor’s degree in music education from UNT in 1986.

Her career unfolded along two paths. She performed under her own name in local clubs and festivals, and she played for groups such as The Drifters and for artists such as James Carter, Hank Crawford, Rachelle Farrell, Kim Jordan Jimmy McGriff, Charnett Moffet, Billy Preston.

By far, her most influential collaboration was with avant-garde drummer/composer and Decoding Society bandleader Ronald Shannon Jackson, whom Parks met through a musician friend. One day, Parks took her horn to Jackson’s Fort Worth home and played for him. “He soon became my mentor,” Parks said.

He also became Parks’ bandleader. She toured the states and Europe with the late composer throughout the late 1990s, and she performed on his 1996 album, Shannon’s House.

Just as her opportunities seemed boundless, she began feeling ill. In 2005 she was diagnosed with the potentially fatal autoimmune disease. Her career nearly came to a halt, but, she said, her husband, fellow musicians, and her church, Inspiring Temple of Praise, never gave up on her.

Parks, who has taught music privately for years, feels that for any artist, living is part of the creative process. Every experience, good or bad, informs your output.

Part of the profits from the sale of Meditation Inspirational Suite will go toward the Sarcoidosis Foundation of Texas, a new nonprofit organization created by Parks to research treatments for and create awareness of the illness. For her album release concert, she will be joined by several longtime friends and collaborators, including bassist Jerome Allen, keyboardists Arlington Jones, Kermit Wells, and Nathan Young, and trumpeter Lawrence Robinson.

“I think this illness was supposed to happen, because everything has worked out,” Parks said. “I had to go through this process to really be a witness to somebody. Music is music. The spirit can touch anyone, whether you’re a Buddhist monk or nonbeliever. I hope my experience will uplift and inspire other people.”

 

[box_info]Rachella Parks
Sat w/JWright & Promise, Drea Randle, Darrell Blair, and Melodie Nicole at Inspiring Temple of Praise, 2010 E Lancaster Av, FW. Free. 817-726-8426.[/box_info]

8 COMMENTS

    • The actual date of the concert is Saturday April 25th at 5pm at Inspiring Temple Of Praise Church. Looking forward to seeing you there!!

  1. “… living is part of the creative process. Every experience, good or bad, informs your output.”

    This is an artist who has embraced living, creating a project that is brimming with the hope and affirmation that we all need. The wells of experience are deep; the waters drawn from those wells are cool and clear as crystal.

    I look forward to an hour of informed celebration from Rachella!

  2. What a beautiful article. My wifes music is beautiful. Thanks Mr. Brown and FWW for helping us to raise more awareness about Sarcoidosis and her music.Hope to see you there.

  3. Thanks Mr. Brown and FWW for helping us to raise more awareness about Sarcoidosis and her music.Hope to see you there.

  4. My mom and a cousin both suffer from this debilitating disease. Thanks so much for sharing your story and bringing about awareness!

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