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St. Louis Singer Katarra Parson's Recordings Reflect On Mental Health And Rebirth

Katarra Parson released 'Cocoa Voyage' last November.
Tyler Small
Katarra Parson released 'Cocoa Voyage' last November.

If St. Louis singer and songwriter Katarra Parson had to pick one of her songs to describe her life, it would be “Phoenix Rising.”

She appreciates the song because it's about flight, freedom and rebirth — the story of how she learned to take care of herself.

“'Phoenix Rising' is literally my journey of finding myself, of finding my power, stepping into that power, being comfortable with that power,” Parson said. “Now I'm at a point where I realized I got responsibility with that power.”

Parson’s been writing and recording songs since 2011. Her eclectic sound, keyboard skills and emotionally raw lyrics have made her one of the city’s most talked-about musicians. It also made her a 2019-20 Kranzberg Music Artist in Residence.

She makes music that speaks to mental health, the intensity of love and the importance of taking care of yourself. Those themes can be found on her debut album, “Cocoa Voyage,” released late last year, during a pivotal moment of her life. 

“I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and PTSD actually two weeks before I dropped ‘Cocoa Voyage,’” Parson said. “It has affected me as an artist, and I feel like it's what it is what makes me an artist. I feel like my extreme emotions, like that’s seen as a mental disorder, but it's like, that's where the music comes from.”

For Parson, music is a release and a form of therapy. 

“Even in the fifth grade when I didn't know what I was going through, when I didn't know what I was feeling, I just knew it was intense,” she said. “I couldn't stop thinking about it until I wrote something to explain how I felt. And I've just always been that way.”

“Cocoa Voyage” draws on a variety of sounds she heard at home and in the church. The album is heavy on R&B, but it also features funk, jazz, hip-hop, neo-soul and rock — all sounds she heard growing up. 

But it wasn’t until 2015 that Parson started performing publicly after performing at Lyrical Therapy, an open-mic collective. After bonding with other musicians, Parson started booking more shows. 

In 2018, Parson’s emotional vulnerability caught the attention of activist and filmmaker Damon Davis, who signed her to his FarFetched record label. That same year, Davis invited her to record in Miami for three months with a group of St. Louis musicians. 

“People from all over different backgrounds is going to be able to relate to it because they gonna see themselves in it no matter what,” Davis said. “At the end of the day, we all human, and I think she knows how to do that, and I think every time I hear more music and day by day she gets better and better at articulating human emotion.”

Parson’s sound resonates with St. Louisans. In early February, she won the SLUM Fest award for R&B Artist of the Year after fans voted for their favorite musicians. 

“All the little girls and guys and kids that are listening to what she's creating now, what she's going to create, are all going to take what she created and take it to the next level,” said John Harrington, co-founder of the awards. “I think it’s a St. Louis sound — you can’t really put your finger on it; all that I can say is that it’s original, it’s from the heart and it’s real.”

Parson said knowing that her music touches others makes her happy.

“I was meant to have music as my medium because I'm meant to heal myself through my music,” Parson said. “But I see that I'm also meant to heal other people through my music, and that’s literally been happening since I dropped this project.”

If You Go

What: Katarra Parson at the Dark Room at the Grandel

When: Feb. 14-15, 2020

Where: 3610 Grandel Square, St. Louis, MO 63103 

Follow Chad on Twitter @iamcdavis

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org

Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.