In Memoriam: Robert Parker

Published on: January 20th, 2020

Singer and saxophonist Robert Parker has died at the age of 89. He died Sunday, January 19 of natural causes at his home in Roseland.

Parker was born in New Orleans on October 14, 1930. He was best known for his 1965 breakout hit, 'Barefootin',' recorded at Cosimo Recording Studios. The song hit it big in 1966. He often supported it onstage by kicking his own shoes off and performing it in bare feet. 'Barefootin'' peaked at number two on the R&B charts and remained on the charts for 17 weeks.

Parker grew up on Melpomene Street in Central City and learned saxophone in elementary school, Dixieland style. As a teenager, he played in the streets for second line parades all over the city.

In high school,  Parker attended Booker T. Washington, a fount of New Orleans musical talent. He played in the band there for one year and participated in a number of Mardi Gras parades with the school's band. James "Sugar Boy" Crawford, Ernie K-Doe, Earl King, Allen Toussaint, Earl Turbinton, and "Big Al" Carson are just a few of its famous alumni. Parker was also an alum of the Grunewald School of Music.

In the late 1950s, Parker assumed the role of house bandleader at Club Tiajuana (1209 Saratoga). He was an in-demand saxophonist in New Orleans throughout the 1950s, known for playing his horn on top of the bar at the Tiajuana, and flat on his back under the tables. In addition to making his own name with Robert Parker & the Royals, he served as a mentor, of sorts, for a young guitarist named Ernest Kador (K-Doe), encouraging him to become a singer and helping him land a regular gig at the club with a vocal group called the Blue Diamonds. 

Parker landed his first professional gig playing with Professor Longhair. They met in Algiers at the Pepper Pot. He joined Fess's band for regular gigs and played saxophone on the carnival classic 'Mardi Gras In New Orleans' (1949). He also played on 'Carnival Time' (Al "Carnival Time" Johnson, 1960). Parker went on to record with Fats Domino, Irma Thomas, Ernie K-Doe, Frankie Ford, Earl King, Clarence "Frogman" Henry, and Huey "Piano" Smith, among others. 

Parker first graced the stage at Jazz Fest in 1974 and performed there for the last time in 2017 as part of the New Orleans Classic R&B Revue.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

WWOZ sends its best wishes to Robert's family and friends during this difficult time. Below, see an hourlong interview conducted by Ira "Dr. Ike" Padnos on May 1, 2018.

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