By Craig Harris
Before he was a well-known fixture in Southern Gospel music, Ivan Parker was an advertising executive. “I enjoyed that, but nothing rings the bell like when you jump into your calling,” Parker said.
After more than 30 years in the industry, Parker’s calling still brings him excitement. “I live this statement … an old gentleman told me a few years ago, he said, ‘Ivan, if you really enjoy what you’re doing, you never work a day in your life,’” Parker said. “There is a passion that I have for ministry, gospel music, and there’s a passion for those people that is really even hard to put it into words how you actually feel. It’s so rooted into your heart and fiber. I wouldn’t be good at anything else.”
Parker has been successful in each avenue of his journey through Southern Gospel music. He joined the Singing Americans in 1982, remaining with the North Carolina-based group for one year before embarking on what turned into an 11-year tenure with Gold City. While with Gold City, the male quartet won seven awards for favorite group, had 19 top-ten songs and won a Dove Award in 1993 for the Southern Gospel Song of the Year “There Rose a Lamb.” He has now performed as a solo artist for the last 20 years.
“It was very odd,” Parker said. “We went from nine people on stage to one. The transition was very different. When you walk out on stage by yourself, something inside you makes it seem a lot easier and simpler, but when I went solo, I realized it’s probably the hardest work I’ve ever done. That’s when the rubber meets the road (when you’re on stage alone). It’s so normal now. It’s like in anything you do in life … you learn how to survive. You learn how to push forward even when there’s obstacles that says you can’t. You learn how to go around obstacles. You learn how to do your program to where it’s going to be a lot easier for you.”
Once launching his solo ministry, Parker began to carve out a new niche. He has often received favorite soloist awards, and in 2007, he became the first soloist to perform on the main stage at the National Quartet Convention. “I am a soloist,” Parker said. “I am one man in a quartet world. When I first went solo, soloists weren’t cool. You had to be a group in order to be accepted.With what God did in my life, He placed me in a very strategic place. What it proved was that we all have a message to sing. Regardless of what your style – whether it be a group, quartet or soloist – we all have a message. It’s about the message. It’s about Jesus. It’s not about us. We’re not the stars. It’s about the Lord. It’s because of him that any of us are here doing what we do.”
Parker makes approximately 175 appearances each year, and his on-stage dynamic has now changed somewhat as the youngest of his two sons – 25-year-old Josh – has been playing electric guitar with Ivan for the last 10 months.
“That has been one of the most fun things that I have ever done,” Parker said. “All of my career, I’ve never traveled with my family. It’s always been other people. Now that I have my son here, it’s a great piece of home away from home. He’s young, and he’s really doing a great job as far as winning the young people. I think our industry has gotten to the place to where a lot of the audience is getting older. We’re not seeing the young people take an interest. That’s part of my process of having him on board, to let the young people know that it’s cool to love Southern Gospel. He plays in a manner to where it should draw and attract the young people.”
Parker admits that being away from family has been the most difficult aspect in his 30-year career. “The hardest part in what I do even after all of these years is leaving,” Parker – who resides in Lebanon, TN – said.
“That’s always the hardest part. Walking out the door and going to get on the bus seems like it can be a 10 or 12-hour trip (just getting) out there. You have to focus on why you do what you do. There has to be something spiritual and emotional that keeps you in that place. I have thought often times, if I ever want to see God in my life, look where I’ve come from and the places he’s brought me through, and I’ll see the fingerprints of God in my life. I know every time I perform, there’s somebody that’s hurting, somebody who is searching who needs to hear the truth. That keeps me motivated. When you chance a life for eternity, that’s a pretty big deal.”
It’s the audience that Parker is singing to that helps to make the journey enjoyable. “We get a lot of e-mails in every week,” Parker said. “In every concert, I’m a very hands-on artist. I take time with the people, whether it be during intermission or after the concert. I’m never in a hurry. The reason I do is because I humbly accept the position I’m in. I’m not on a call to do it. It’s because of those fans that I’m able to do what I do. It’s very important that if they spend their money to buy a ticket and take time out of their busy, crazy life to give me two hours for a concert, I think they deserve it.”
Parker’s latest project is Timeless Treasurers, which includes songs such as “It Is No Secret,” “Tell Me the Story of Jesus” and “Sweeter As the Days Go By.”
“I have recorded all of these years and there’s a lot of songs I never got to,” Parker – who had a No. 1 song in 2008 with “I Choose” – said. “So I got some songs from when I grew up that I have loved for years.”
In addition to all of his success as a member of Gold City and as a soloist, Parker has also been a fixture on the Gaither Homecoming Series. “I think I’m one of the most blessed singers in Gospel Music, because I have been able to not only be a part of one of the greatest quartets to ever walk on stage but to also be with the Gaither Homecoming Video family,” Parker said. “That whole deal will go down in history. That space in time of what we did will go down in history. It’s already historical to the point to that it was the longest-running tour in music history. It’s a great feeling to have been a part of the great caravan that stretched all the way from Gold City to the Homecoming years and intermingled in all of that to have the solo career sitting in the middle of that. For God to have blessed me personally with the ability and opportunity to communicate one on one, that’s been a blessing. That’s been huge.”
Written By Craig Harris
First Published in October 2013 in SGN Scoops Magazine.