By WALLACE BAINE
If the doctors had been right, the Santa Cruz music community would today be marking the 10-year anniversary of Monica Parker’s passing.
But the doctors were not right, and, as a result, the woman known
around the world as “Sista Monica” is still very much alive – in fact, she would argue, more alive than ever.
It was a decade ago now when Parker was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer.
“The doctor said to me, ‘I’m a big fan of yours, so this is a hard converation to have,’” said Parker who performs Saturday night at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center. “He told me, ‘If the odds are one out of 25 million, you’re the one. You have about three months.’”
A few surgeries and many radiation treatments later, she beat the odds, and today is cancer free.
That kind of experience does a number on a person, and Parker says that not only is she a different woman today because of it, but her survival depended on the kind of life she led before the diagnosis.
“When I look back 10 years later, it was a combination of a lot of different things that brought me through that, being raised singing gospel music in the church by a grandfather who was a Baptist preacher, and by a mother with a strong constitution . It was also my military background that gave me the intestinal fortitude to stick through the whole experience, and my walk with faith.”
As a performer, Parker was at the time of her diagnosis on the way to a high-profile career as a blues and gospel singer, touring regularly throughout the U.S. and Europe. Two years of treatment and healing resulted in her 2005 album “You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down,” and suddenly a different Sista Monica had emerged.
“I’m more of a truth seeker now,” she said. “I like to resonate to what’s more true for me in my music. And I probably have a lot more urgency in my life. When you have to lay down for two years from doing what it is that you love, I was able to listen to the fact that I’m meant to be a singer.”
Parker’s latest performance is called “Acoustic Honey,” and she says it’s a departure from wild blues woman cut from the mold of Koko Taylor and Etta James that she was following before her diagnosis.
“I know how to be strong and sassy on stage and look out over a crowd of 10,- or 20,000 people. That’s a very familiar road. What’s not as familiar is being a little bit softer and more quiet.”
The new show features jazz, blues, gospel and love songs, all done in a softer vein with her band featuring her long-time sideman and keyboardist “Danny B” Beconcini, bassist Ruth Davies, saxophonist Danny Sandoval and Leon Joyce Jr. mixing originals with beloved covers of such songs as “Imagine” and “What a Difference a Day Makes.”
Parker had been surprised by the reaction of the “Acoustic Honey” show at a recent performance in Oakland.
“People were crying. And that’s the part that I really don’t like, because I’m sensitive too. And I kept saying to myself, ‘What are they crying for? What did I say?’ I think people were just genuinely touched by the intimacy and the closeness.”