When Sista Monica sings the blues, she invokes the full colour spectrum of life.
The California-based singer considers herself to be too much of a buoyant survivor — of cancer, of unsatisfying relationships — to mope about musically.
As her performing alter-ego, Sista Monica, Monica Parker tends to produce toe-tappingly energetic songs that inspire her listeners to leap to their feet and dance about.
“I like that feel-good energy,” said Parker, a headliner on Saturday, Aug. 18, at the Central Music Festival, north of Red Deer.
The 2012 Blues Music Association nominee appreciates tunes that “speak the truth and reach people on a deeper level . . . And blues is the truth,” said Parker. “The blues offer us some authenticity.”
Some of that slice-of-life honesty is behind the Sista Monica song, Stop Talking About Me Stalking You.
In case you were wondering, “It’s about an ex-lover who was telling people I was stalking him,” said Parker, with a resonant laugh.
“The groove is really funky and, like a lot of my lyrics, it comes from me saying something to someone, or affirming something to myself.”
So was Parker stalking him? “No, I wasn’t,” she responded.
“I just wasn’t taking ‘No’ for an answer!”
Her song, Soul Shine, comes from Parker’s memory of her mother telling her “your soul shine is better than sunshine.” The phrase was borrowed from a Warren Haynes tune.
“My mom is behind a lot of my music. She’s one of my biggest influences,” said Parker, who grew up listening to her mother’s Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight and Diana Ross and the Supremes records.
She also sang in a church choir in her native Gary, Ind., that was so virtuosic it was often featured on a Chicago radio program.
Yet somehow, Parker’s powerful singing voice got relegated to the shower after she grew up, joined the Marines and became a corporate recruiter.
It wasn’t until she spotted her neighbour, Stanley Burrell (aka M.C. Hammer) performing on the Arsenio Hall show in 1992 that Parker thought, “If he can do that, I know I can do it.”
She hastily assembled a band to launch her singing career, envisioning it being “a part-time thing on the side, to keep my mind occupied after work.”
But almost immediately, Parker began landing prestigious gigs, such as the Monterey Bay Blues Festival, where she shared the bill with Etta James, Gladys Knight and the Neville Brothers. “People began taking me seriously. . . .
“They told me, ‘You need to record,’ ” so she formed her own label, Mo Muscle Records, and put out her debut album, Get Out of My Way! in 1995.
The album’s success took Parker and her band on a surprise world tour after the song Windy City Burner started climbing charts.
More blues and gospel albums followed, and Sista Monica started racking up critical acclaim. A Blues Revue critic called her “star material all the way,” while Jazz Times described Parker an “explosive singer” who smokes the competition.
Parker was flying high with tours to Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver when she noticed a lump under one arm in 2003. She was given a devastating diagnosis.
Doctors gave her three months to live unless she submitted to an aggressive regime of chemotherapy, radiation and surgery on the tumour. “Sometimes life can . . . knock you to your knees,” recalled Parker, who persevered through two years of treatments, never taking a complete break from music.
Once declared cancer free, she put out the upbeat albums Sweet Inspiration and You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down, to share her newfound lease on life with her listeners.
Now strangers often approach to tell Parker how much her music means to them, and the singer is gratified.
“You’re never promised anything in this life, but I feel blessed to have a singing career and a purpose. . . . This is God’s gift, I guess,” said the 56-year-old.
Parker’s latest album, Living in the Danger Zone, is about the risks taken whenever you give your heart to somebody.
She related, “I was in love with someone for nine years and had the illusion I was in a good relationship. But it ended up not being the best for me.”
Parker discovered it was more painful staying with someone “who does not support you achieving your better self” than just walking away.
The blues singer looks forward to performing for the first time in Central Alberta. While she loves outdoor festivals because of their musical mix and laid-back vibe, Parker said she will sing wherever she’s wanted.
“If there are 20 people in a room, and I can fill those people with some inspiration and hope, then that’s what I will decide to do.”