Orlando Parker Jr. ‘Transcends’: Recording artist, model and LGBT activist makes his way in music scene

Musician, model and socially conscious Orlando Parker Jr.
Musician, model and socially conscious Orlando Parker Jr.

It’s a fragile road, taking a stand when you’re making your way in the music business, according to soul singer Orlando Parker Jr. Parker, who is also a model, will perform Friday night at Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro, opening for Dark Water Rising.

Parker, who lives in Raleigh, has a new video out called “Transcend” and a new EP called “Tell Me No,” referring to the Whitney Houston song. He performed recently at The Cave in Chapel Hill and during the “Hamilton” service of Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Durham. He has also performed in Raleigh a lot, including the Pour House. But Durhamites might recognize him -- and his voice -- from singing the national anthem at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park for a game this past summer.

Born and raised in Detroit, Parker moved here in 2008. He moved around a lot as a kid, as his mom was an actress, but they always went back to home base in Detroit.

“The family was always there,” he said. And so it was for Parker, too, after a move to Atlanta didn’t work out. But going back home didn’t work out either, and he came to North Carolina for a change of scenery. By day, Parker is manager at a dental practice, and in the rest of his time he models and works on his music career.

Parker has faced some adversity trying to be a musician as an LGBT artist. It’s not a conversation he leads with, he said, but he is somewhat of an activist. That’s harder to put out there first when you’re trying to get yourself out there musically, too.

“Some people don’t think you’re as investment-worthy,” he said. Before filming the video for “Transcend,” he made some changes like filming in front of the LGBT Center in Raleigh, and the video director backed out.

“I think it depends on the genre and the people you’re doing business with, the label or the venues, who their booking agents are,” Parker said. He said that especially with HB2 and the election of President Donald Trump, people are picking sides.

“People are kind of choosing their side now, because people feel that can be who they really want to be now,” he said, since the election.

But still, for Parker it’s “basically about getting your music to the people.” In his teens, being LGBT could prevent you from getting a record deal, he said. “Now I think it’s more realistic but I am still faced with some challenges I think.”

Parker was part of the “Stand Against HB2” concert series and joined the Women’s March and a Moral Monday protest.

“But I also need to position myself to be an artist, to sing and have my music heard -- and not have people see me as just a political activist. I’m a musician first who happens to be socially conscious,” he said.

Parker describes his EP as soulful rock and is already working on his next EP, to be released in June. His major music influences are Whitney Houston and Stevie Wonder. Listening to Houston taught him how to sing, and listening to Wonder taught him how to feel the lyric.

Parker’s EP title, “Tell Me No,” the Houston song, is because he wanted to pay his respects to her and cover her in the right way, he said.

“Tell Me No” was on the 2002 album “Just Whitney…” and around the time Parker came out to friends and family, he said.

“That album was just instrumental to help me do that. That song and ‘Unashamed’ -- you’d understand why that’s so many people’s coming out song. But ‘Tell Me No’ you can rock out to, especially a live performance,” Parker said. “It’s been a motivating theme for people getting ready to take on the world.”

His upcoming EP will be called “Stunt Queen” and feature pop songs. Parker’s modeling work has appeared in magazines including the “Southern Bride and Groom 30th Anniversary Issue” out now, and “Weddings” magazine. Parker will perform during Out! Raleigh, the LGBTQ festival downtown on May 6. His rendition of “ The Star-Spangled Banner” at the DBAP wasn’t his only time singing the national anthem. He has sung it at several other public events, and will again at the Walk to Defeat ALS on April 22 in downtown Raleigh.

Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: 919-419-6563, @dawnbvaughan

GO & DO:

WHO: Orlando Parker Jr.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday, March 17

WHERE: Cat’s Cradle -- Back Room

300 E. Main St., Carrboro

TICKETS: $10. catscradle.com

MORE: Parker will also perform at the Out! Raleigh festival in downtown Raleigh, at 11:30 a.m. May 6 on the City Plaza stage.