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The Parker Trio
While meeting with the Parker Trio, I was amazed that God put together a singer from Ohio (Shannan Parker) with her husband Warren from Ontario Canada and combined them with Angie White from Canada's far east coast island province of Newfoundland to form a prolific southern gospel/new country group. I was equally impressed with the fact they are a trio that is willing to take risks with their musical style.
With the sun setting behind us we sat on the embankment beside the venue they had just played, we talked about the Parker Trio's popularity in the United States, their evolving music and last year's recording of their live album in Havana, Illinois.
In a career that has spanned nine years, starting in Ontario Canada and eventually moved to the United States, what has been the secret of the Parker Trio's success? Warren says, "The Lord has opened so many doors for us. In the second and third years of our ministry, we began touring extensively in the United States. In the years since, seventy-five percent of our bookings have been in the United States." He added that the logistics, demand and sheer size of the American market made moving south of the forth-ninth parallel a no-brainer. He also gives credit to God. "God expects you to work at anything He gives to you. To make it successful, you just have to believe in what you do and work hard at it. We did that and we have seen great things happen."
The group's hard work has delivered to them several music awards, a contract with Nashville based Journey Records and made them a popular choice for churches, festivals and conventions as they have averaged 260 performances annually in recent years. During that time, they have turned out six CDs.
In June 2004, just one week after Angie joined the group, they began to lay plans for a live worship video. After hooking up with Major Productions, the group shot a concept video in Indiana. The management of Journey Records had introduced them to Chris Major, the company's owner. Major's experience producing videos for several country and rock stars was attractive to them. "We just sat down and talked to him and God had got hold of his heart. He said, 'I've told so many kids how not to live and told them the wrong way to live, I need to give back to God. I need to let God use my talents to try and win them back.' He did all of the camera work, all of the production and all of the editing," says Angie. About the little town of Havana, Illinois Angie says, "We got the police, fire department and mayor involved. We shut the town down. It wasn't hard to do because it is a small town. They brought out all their Christmas lights, fire trucks and horse carriages. It was just a really interesting thing to watch being put together." Laughing she says, "At that point I decided I wanted to be an actor instead of a singer."
Warren says, "I probably
got more excited about this project because I had a lot more say in it.
I think with a live project, it is a lot easier to have more expression
and energy. It just is a different feeling because things happen in a concert
that wouldn't happen in the studio." Warren was also involved with the
post production and engineering.
He says, "It was the biggest undertaking in my life. I didn't realize how big it was until we had it all done. It was a lot of fun and I am glad I was a part of it. We have had great feedback from them (the fans). We get emails frequently saying how much they are blessed by it. I would say it (Live in Havana) is our best seller right now. People like a live album. They have come to a concert and they enjoy the live atmosphere. They want to walk away and relive that again and they can. A studio project may only have ten songs on it but this live project has nineteen songs on it. It has a lot of stuff packed onto a DVD or CD."
The group has spent a lot of time in prayer seeking direction for their music. They want to ensure they are flexible enough to continue meeting the needs of people who still do not know Christ.
"We have prayed that God would allow us to reach a large range of ages, not just the youth or the older generation but from the very young to the very wise. Music does change and it changes through time so we have just prayed that God would birth within us the ability to adapt to that change not because we don't want to be who we are, because we love praise and worship. We can appreciate so many different styles as long the gospel message is there it doesn't really matter the style that is attached to it. We also want to be able to hear the lyrics. We started out very southern gospel, progressed a little to (include) new country and now we are between new country, contemporary and praise and worship. Really, when it comes to the next album, we are just going to say, 'Lord, You know our heart. You know what we enjoy and what is going to bless the people so we will figure it out once it is done,'" says Shannan.
What are the challenges in changing your style? "You hope people will understand and they do. You just have to pass that wall of fear and to do what God has called you to do. If He has called you to do something He wants you to do it to bless people," acknowledges Shannan.
In the nine years that the Parker Trio has been at this gig, they have seen a plethora of genres spring up in the Christian music industry. I wondered what kinds of challenges that might present in terms of retaining their fan base and continuing to expand it.
Shannan says the problem that exists is not with establishing a firm foothold but rather in ensuring the industry is working together. "It isn't hard to establish a fan base but it is hard to get the industry to work together and realize the style is not the issue, it is whether you are out to win souls for Jesus Christ. We have to have Christian entertainment. We are a form of Christian entertainment but we need to leave those prejudices behind. One is not better than the other. We are all doing this for the same reason and we need to realize that. We need the body to work together not fight against each other. "Tear Down These Walls" from their Live in Havana album reflects that concern.
All three of them firmly believe that God will only continue to bless their ministry if they spend quality time with Him.
As Angie looks at me nervously raising my notebook at her headalmost got that hornet-she says, "A lot of times I escape by going back to my bunk, pulling the curtains and opening my Bible. That's my time daily with the Lord and I have to remember to do that."
Shannan adds, "I just try to read books that lead me into a deeper relationship (with God) along with Scripture. I try to remember Paul's words 'I die daily.' You never reach the point where you say, 'I've made it,' until you reach the feet of Jesus."
Warren says very early in his career he learned that he needed to take time to refuel. "So many times I got so busy serving that I forgot the one I serve."
Angie as the newest member of the group the last word goes to you. As a gal from the rock are you getting along okay with these mainlanders? She jokes, "sometimes its okay-- suffer for Jesus. No it's been great."
By Joe Montague, exclusive rights reserved
Joe Montague is an internationally
published journalist / photographer. His ministry is dedicated to the memory
of his late son Kent David Montague who went to heaven at the age of 18.
All copyright and distribution rights remain the property of Joe Montague.