When singer/songwriter Katarra Parson, known professionally as “Katarra,” began performing before a live audience three years ago, her hands shook so badly that she couldn’t play her keyboard. Her voice trembled to the point where she couldn’t sing.
She was invited by her friend Richard Washington to join his collective of artists that present the open mic Lyrical Therapy each Sunday at UrbArts.
According to her, he chased her down non-stop for four years after they graduated from high school asking that she be a part of the Lyrical Therapy team – and attempting to convince her that her music had the potential to connect with people in a special way. After he spent two-hours making his case, she gave in. “He was like, ‘Just try it. Just see what you can do,’” Parson said.
That first time, she couldn’t do anything.
“I was immediately defeated, but I just kept going,” Parson said. “The only way to describe it is that something inside of me just told me to keep going and keep working at it.” The more she performed, the more she realized people really connected with her performances.
“It was like, ‘Okay, the feelings that I feel when I hear my music and when I play it, other people are feeling it too,’” Parson said. “I felt like, ‘This is going to be something greater than just me getting over my anxiety and expressing myself.’”
She was right. Three years later she’s releasing her debut album – and performing selections from “Cocoa Voyàge” during a special album release concert at 10 p.m. Friday, November 29 at The Dark Room.
The album grew out of Parson pouring the feelings for someone she was in love with into her music, and the songs became an outlet for expressing her feelings for the person – and herself.
“It was a journey of me loving others and me loving myself,” Parson said.
Love was what drew her to the idea of becoming a singer in the first place. In 5th grade, she fell in love with a boy and became so infatuated with him that she wrote ballads about him because she didn’t have the nerve to tell him how she felt. It was the beginning of her lifelong practice of expressing through music what she couldn’t with words.
As she sang these songs to herself, she imagined being a singer delivering her music to the masses. It was a coping mechanism to deal with the constant bullying she experienced daily. While it was a wonderful fantasy, Parson wouldn’t allow herself to fathom that it could be a reality.
“My anxiety was so bad that I had convinced myself that a billion things were wrong with me and nobody would care what I had to say,” Parson said. “My skin tone, my hair texture, my personality and me being introverted and quiet. I felt that I didn’t have the qualities that I needed to be the singer/songwriter that I wanted.”
She may not have had the nerves, but she certainly had the talent. Both sides of her family are musically inclined, and her mother was choir director for their church.
“I didn’t have any choice but to sing,” Parson said laughing. “We were in the adult choir at 8-years-old, so I got a pretty big head start as far as being a singer.”
Bored as her mother fellowshipped with members following worship service and choir rehearsals, Parson would tinker around on an old upright piano at her church.
“I started fiddling with it, and the next thing I know I was making sounds that made sense to me,” Parson said. “And they sounded like the music that I was influenced by. I kept practicing and finding that emotional outlet to express myself.”
After conquering Lyrical Therapy, she hooked up with Owen Ragland to play for rapper Mvstermind at LouFest 2017. Then she joined his group when he became a Kranzberg Music Artist in Residence Fellow in 2018. In 2019, she decided to take the leap to apply herself.
“The more I got confident and able to perform in front of people as a singer, I was like, ‘Wait a minute, I need my own residency. Let me show people what I can do,’” Brown said.
She was accepted. She has been able to take full advantage of the platform and feels extremely blessed for the opportunities that have come because of it, including recording her first album, which she sees as a full circle moment from the days as a lovesick 5th grader to present day.
An album that seamlessly fuses soul, R&B and hip-hop, “Cocoa Voyàge” is reminiscent of the height of the neo-soul era made famous by Maxwell, Lauryn Hill, D’Angelo and Jill Scott.
“I feel like it’s a good introduction to who I am as an artist,” Parson said.
Her goal was to blend the classic with the modern to create something timeless, and she can’t wait to let people hear it on Friday live and in the flesh.
“I’m excited to release all the buildup that I’ve had over the past three years,” Parson said. “I want to take people to another place and to see that being vulnerable is okay. I also want people to know that great music – soulful, open and incredibly human music – is out there and being made right here in St. Louis.”
Katarra will perform a special release show of “Cocoa Voyàge” at The Dark Room at the Grandel (3610 Grandel Square) on Friday, November 29 at 10 p.m. For more information about the artist visit https://www.facebook.com/katarramusic/ or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.