Women of Achievement
for a woman who seized the
opportunity to use her talents and created her own future:
Deanie Parker’s life has been filled with music. As a child she listened to Memphis radio station WDIA. Her days brimmed over with gospel, R&B and contemporary jazz, hosted by now-legendary DJs such as Nat D. Williams and Rufus Thomas. Her grandmother always had records on the old Victrola and Deanie listened and dreamed. Always imaginative, a broomstick was her microphone. When her family moved north, she missed the music and tuned in to Nashville’s WLAC to hear the voices of the Delta. She studied piano only to be whacked on the hands for playing B.B. King, Chuck Jackson and other popular music by ear!
The family returned to Memphis from southern Ohio in 1961. While attending Hamilton High School, Deanie formed a group called the Valadors and entered a talent contest at the Old Daisy Theatre on Beale. First prize: an audition at Stax. Advice from Stax founder Jim Stewart: “You have to have your own material.” With that, Deanie went home and started writing, first “My Imaginary Guy,’’ a regional success. Deanie’s career in the music business was underway.
She worked most of her senior year at the then-Satellite Record Shop. After graduation she spent a year as a DJ for WLOK before returning to Stax in 1964 to become its first publicist. One of only two office employees, she learned on the job while continuing to write for artists such as Carla Thomas, Albert King and the Staple Singers. One of the first female publicists in the music business, she gained new skills and used her salary to pay her university tuition. She credits the late Estelle Axton as a role model.
With the closing of Stax, Deanie went on to be promotions director for WPTY-TV, marketing director for Memphis in May and vice president of communications and marketing for The Med. But through the years, music remained her passion.
When offered the job of executive director for Soulsville, USA, a then-risky proposition, she jumped at the chance. Under her leadership the organization has thrived. People with mission and spirit that reflect that of the original Stax have collected priceless memorabilia for Memphis and the world to study and enjoy in the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, thus fulfilling Deanie’s lifelong dream of celebrating Memphis’ iconic status in American contemporary music. The Stax Music Academy reaches out to young musicians and brings them along while helping stabilize the community.
Through Deanie Parker’s initiative, the heart and soul of Stax – an essential and historic part of Memphis’ heart – lives on.