A wise person once said, "The future builds on the foundation of the past." Throughout his life, celebrated soloist Ivan Parker has understood the importance of looking to the future, while never forgetting where he came from.
Growing up a preacher's kid in Eastern North Carolina, Ivan developed a natural love for Southern Gospel music. Renowned today for his velvety-smooth baritone, Ivan's career began in a musically formidable decade--the 1970s--as he embarked on a journey that would lead him around the world, from New York's Carnegie Hall to Johannesburg's Mosaiek Theatre.
After an early stint with the Singing Americans, Ivan joined Gospel Music Hall of Famers Gold City. During his decade- long tenure with the legendary quartet, they garnered seven Singing News Favorite Group Awards, 19 Top 10 hits and a GMA Dove Award for Southern Gospel Recorded Song of the Year. But it was the group's megahit, "Midnight Cry," which would become Ivan's signature song, one he still proudly performs at every concert.
Now marking 25 years in solo ministry, Ivan is among the most lauded names in gospel music today. He has performed at hundreds of Gaither Homecoming events and appeared in 32 bestselling Gaither Homecoming videos, including The Best of Ivan Parker, which soared to #2 on Billboard's video chart. He has also garnered 31 Singing News Fan Awards, including 14 for Favorite Male Vocalist, and has recorded 17 solo albums.
His latest Difference Media release, Feels Like Home, finds Ivan reaching back in time to reclaim 11 beloved gospel standards. The 1970s may have been the era of rotary phones, shag carpet, 8- tracks and The Brady Bunch, but for Ivan, the decade was a time of significant growth. He graduated from high school and married the love of his life, Teresa, and along the way, he encountered some powerful songs that helped shape who he would become.
Ivan was reminded of that not long ago while looking through his mother's record collection. "My mother recently moved into an assisted living facility and going through the things in her home brought back a lot of memories," he says. "My brother Danny and I started looking at her LPs from the '70s and going, 'Oh, man--I'd forgotten about this one,' and 'Wow, I remember listening to this one nonstop.'"
Enlisting the production prowess of longtime friend and fellow Gold City alum Garry Jones, Feels Like Home is indeed a homecoming of sorts for Ivan. "This music came from an era when we were growing up in church," Ivan says. "These are wonderful songs that inspired us to do what we're doing--they made us want to sing."
It's no wonder, with lyrics written by such giants as Dottie Rambo, Bill & Gloria Gaither, Andraé Crouch, Mosie Lister and Dallas Holm, among a who's who of gospel music's biggest names. And in keeping with the nostalgic theme, Garry's thoughtful, rich arrangements uniquely pay homage to the history of the songs. "Ivan is such a seasoned artist--seasoned in terms of his craft--that he has the innate ability to deliver a song unlike most that I've worked with," Garry shares. "He bonds with the song, and the song becomes secondary to who he is."
The laid-back shuffle of the Bill & Gloria Gaither-penned album opener, "Feeling At Home In The Presence Of Jesus," begins Ivan's walk down memory lane. "Bill had us do this song at a Homecoming concert one night several years ago," recalls Ivan, "and I pulled out a piece of paper and wrote down the title. I knew at some point I would record it."
"Feeling At Home In The Presence Of Jesus" effortlessly segues into Ivan's rendition of one of the biggest country/gospel crossover hits of the 20th century. "Why Me," written and originally recorded by Kris Kristofferson, topped the charts in 1973 and has been covered by the likes of Merle Haggard, Conway Twitty and Willie Nelson. Ivan's "Why Me" is a tender piano ballad masterfully underscoring the song's humble plea for the Lord's grace.
"A lot of Christians can relate to it, because none of us are worthy of the grace and mercy that we have," Ivan says of the message of "Why Me." "Sometimes you sit there and go, 'Why me, Lord? Why did You pick me?' It was relevant when it was a hit in the 1970s, and it's just as relevant today ."
"His Hand In Mine" is another personal favorite for Ivan. "One of my heroes was Jake Hess, and I loved to hear him sing this Mosie Lister song. It's a comforting song for me, and Garry really put a special touch on it. The upright bass and soft snare brush are so relaxing."
Feels Like Home showcases two selections from the late Grammy and Dove Award-winning Gospel Music Hall of Famer Dottie Rambo. "I Just Came To Talk With You Lord" and "The Holy Hills Of Heaven Call Me" are a nod to the early years of Ivan's musical journey. "Dottie's songs are a different brand of gospel song," he explains. "She didn't just write a song; she lived the message of it. Her lyrics are very real, and they're written about the things everyday people experience."
The world-renowned Andraé Crouch classic "Through It All" meaningfully bookends an album so steeped in history. "It's such a great ministry song," Ivan says. "No matter what you're facing today, you know God's got His hand on you and He's directing your path."
Ivan Parker may have long since given away his leisure suits and 8-track tapes, but the songs of gospel music's golden era will forever live in his heart. Indelibly influencing who he is--from his formative years with Gold City to his place today as one of the genre's most beloved voices-- these are the songs that guide Ivan home and help him remember who he is.
"In today's hectic world, sometimes you just need something that soothes the mind and lets some things heal," Ivan concludes. "That's what this music does for me--there's some healing involved. It's been great to be able to bring these songs back and give them a fresh touch. I think it's important we honor such beloved songs today and not let them be forgotten."