Centenarian celebrates a lifetime of music

Marie Parker at the piano, 2012

Marie Parker at the piano, 2012

Recognized at age five as a gifted musician, 100-year-old Marie White Parker has spent the past 95 years following her passion for learning and performing.

“I was born liking music and that’s how I got started,” she said. “My first music teacher charged 25 cents for a 30-minute lesson. And to let you know how things were, my parents couldn’t even pay that sometimes.”

Born in Jacksonville on August 18, 1916, Parker is eyeing her century mark as an independent woman.

“I don’t do the things I used to do, but I’m doing pretty good, fine actually. I’m healthy, strong, I have friends and family,” said Parker, who still takes care of her home, fixes most of her own meals and puts away the groceries she has delivered.

A member of the Classy Chicks Red Hat Club, Parker said she enjoys having the group visit at her apartment. “I can move around and not have to sit in one place all the time,” she said, remarking the only reason she uses a walker is because others at The Coves at River Garden, an independent living community for active seniors, expect her to do so.

Although Parker was raised in the South at a time when segregation was strictly enforced, she said she didn’t encounter unpleasantness.

“I came up in the South during real segregation but as a child I never noticed it. Children were just children. I played the piano and everyone loved me,” said Parker. “I went to Stanton High School, then we moved to New Jersey where I was one of four black children in the school but I never experienced any discrimination.”

Parker’s mother passed away at a young age so she was brought up by her aunt and her father, who was an AME minister.

“My Lord, I came up so good. I never saw a deck of cards in our house or whiskey,” remarked Parker jovially. “The only music I saw came from a hymnbook. I had a wonderful upbringing – I think it made me a good person. As a child I thought I wanted to do things other children got to do but now that I’m old and I look back – what a wonderful life I’ve had.” 

Parker continued her musical studies and performed throughout New Jersey and New York. She sang in choruses with the Queens Symphony, accompanied vocalists, played for churches, directed choirs and presented concerts. Her apartment has hundreds of photographs, concert programs, sheet music, plaques and awards and other memorabilia representative of her life as an accomplished performing artist.

“Of course, I met a man named Aaron Parker who didn’t know anything about music – he didn’t even sing in the shower,” laughed Parker. “I told him I would give up my career and be his wife. He said, ‘No, you were doing all this before you knew me, you can’t stop now.’ We married in 1950 and in the 41 years that we were married he never complained – concerts, rehearsals – all of that, he never went back on his word. About the only song he liked was ‘Danny Boy’ so it became my favorite too.”

The Parkers moved back to Jacksonville January 1, 1985. “I told my husband, ‘New York is enough city for me,’ so we built a house near the golf course in Middleburg,” said Parker. 

After her husband passed away from Alzheimer’s disease, she renewed her lessons with renowned organist Andrew Clark who was then at Riverside Presbyterian Church, and resumed performing and accompanying others.

“Andy’s just fabulous, a great teacher. I’ve been blessed with fabulous teachers,” she said. “We don’t see each other as much now but every year he takes me to lunch on my birthday and we go to Hendricks Baptist Church where he plays and gives me a private concert.”

Parker’s personal piano and organ repertoire runs from Handel and Bach to Duke Ellington, “Jelly Roll” Morton and Scott Joplin, as well as hymns from every denomination, but Clark’s own compositions are her favorites.

“I met Marie around 1990. She took lessons because she wanted to keep up with her training and she studied with me for about 12 years,” said Clark. “She is a very respected organist. She was a favorite guest performer at the Wednesday Happenings at Riverside for many years.”

No doubt all those years of organ playing have contributed to her longevity.  Parker and Clark agreed that it’s not just the knees or hands, the whole body has to work.

At 100 years young on August 18, Parker plans to celebrate with a nice dinner. She looks forward to eating something spicy and enjoying a cocktail. “Every special occasion deserves a nice cocktail,” said Parker with a smile.

By Peggy Harrell Jennings
Resident Community News

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