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Duluth celebrates Low's Mimi Parker with laughter, tears at funeral

Hundreds filled the Mormon church for a service marked by memories of Parker's talent, generosity and wit.

A cardboard funeral program features a black-and-white image of a woman singing into a microphone, with the text "1967-2022."
The program sleeve for Mimi Parker's funeral was designed by former Low bassist Zak Sally. The photograph on the sleeve was taken by Joe Cunningham.
Jay Gabler / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — Hundreds gathered Thursday afternoon at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Duluth Heights neighborhood for a funeral service commemorating the life of Mimi Parker.

Known to music fans worldwide as a core member of the band Low, Parker was a Duluth resident for her entire adult life. She died on Saturday of ovarian cancer at age 55.

081719.N.DNT.WILDWATERS.C11_1.jpg
Mimi Parker performs with Low at Bayfront Festival Park in Duluth during the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters Wild Waters Music Fest in 2019.
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

"Friends, family, bass players, welcome!" said Elsie Davis, eliciting an appreciative chuckle from a crowd that included multiple people who have played bass in Low over the band's 29-year history. Parker was percussionist, a vocalist and a songwriter in the band, with her husband, Alan Sparhawk, on vocals and guitar.

Numerous musicians were present at the service, along with several music journalists and other industry professionals who knew and worked with Parker during her long and distinguished career. Duluth Mayor Emily Larson and her predecessor in office, Don Ness, were also in attendance.

Parker and Sparhawk have long been active Mormons, and fellow congregant David Gore remembered first visiting the Duluth meetinghouse in 2004 while interviewing for a job at the University of Minnesota Duluth. "Alan and Mimi stood at this very pulpit and sang 'Silent Night,'" said Gore.

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Exterior view of a church building on an overcast day, with ribbed concrete wall section at left and brick wall section at center. To the right is a tree with white bark and multiple branching trunks.
Mimi Parker's funeral took place on Thursday at Duluth's Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Jay Gabler / Duluth News Tribune

"I remember reporting to my wife after I came to Duluth that it was a cold place," recalled the former Texan. "But the community there seemed quite warm, and they had really talented musicians!"

Music during the service included the hymns "Amazing Grace" and "How Great Thou Art," as well as an instrumental performance of Low's 2002 song "Point of Disgust." Written by Parker and originally recorded at Sacred Heart Music Center, the song was performed by Betsy Faerber on piano and Matt Faerber on organ.

In what Davis said was a special request by Parker herself, singer-songwriter Tim Rutili performed "Funeral Singers." Hollis Sparhawk, the daughter of Parker and Alan Sparhawk, sang backing vocals on the poignant song released in 2009 by Rutili's band Califone.

"All my friends are half-gone birds, are magnets, all my friends are words," sang Rutili and Hollis Sparhawk. "All my friends are funeral singers."

In a eulogy, family friend Robin Harris related the arc of Parker's life. Born in Bemidji, Parker met Alan Sparhawk at the Clearbrook, Minnesota, grade school where the two were classmates. They began dating as sophomores in high school, and formed Low in 1993 after moving to Duluth.

A cartoon printed on a white card has two angels standing on a cloud. One says, "Listen how beautiful does the choir sound!" The other replies, "Yes they've been joined by Mimi Parker."
Attendees at Mimi Parker's funeral received cards printed with a cartoon by Tony Husband.
Jay Gabler / Duluth News Tribune

"About 1997, Alan and Mim bought a 1930s vintage Craftsman-style home with a large yard on the hillside above the Duluth harbor," said Harris. "Ironic, for someone who literally traveled around the world, she was most content and happy at home."

Harris described Parker as a stylish dresser, a superb cook, a generous host, a devoted friend and a loving mother to Hollis, 22, and a son, Cyrus, 18. "She was over-the-moon, extraordinarily proud of Hollis and Cyrus and all their creative, scholarly and life endeavors," Harris said.

Alan Sparhawk, Parker's husband and bandmate, wrote on Sunday that she "passed away last night, surrounded by family and love, including yours." Over three decades, Low became one of the most acclaimed bands of its time.

Parker's sisters, Cindy Elam and Wanda Larson, also shared memories. Elam described her younger sister as "very loving and kind, very genuine." In one favorite family story, an inventive young Mimi used chewing gum to successfully tempt a deer to step away from the family car.

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Although "she was known around the world for her beautiful voice," said Wanda Larson, her sister "usually didn't go into great detail about the touring and the beautiful places they had traveled to." Instead, Parker preferred to focus on family.

"I cherish our time together," said Wanda Larson. "I feel so blessed to have had her as my sister, and will always hold her close to my heart."

After the service concluded, attendees were presented with what Davis described as gifts from Parker's family. Each family in attendance was invited to take a rose, a printed cartoon drawn by Tony Husband in Parker's memory, and a square cut from a quilt.

A hand holds a square with a piece of blue quilt, lined in green and yellow. A piece of paper reading "Mimi Jo Parker, 1967-2022" is pinned to the square.
Mimi Parker's family shared pieces of a beloved quilt.
Jay Gabler / Duluth News Tribune

"When Mim and Al were first married," said Davis, an aunt sewed the quilt for them. "The quilt was a vital part of their lives, keeping them warm, bundling their children, sitting out on the lawn in the sun, and it provided comfort during the last days of this long, hard journey."

At the family's invitation, attendees lingered in the church's cultural hall to share conversation and enjoy profiteroles. "She specifically requested profiteroles, or cream puffs, and festoon lighting," said Davis. "The family's convinced that she wants festoon lighting solely for the reason that it's a fun thing to say."

Exemplifying Parker's heart and wit, the funeral program included two quotations. The first, from Parker herself, was "Love: it's the most important thing."

The second, from her favorite movie ("Jaws"), was apt for the day's blustery weather: "You're gonna need a bigger boat."

Plans for the artist's remains are private. Davis said the family have also requested that mourners follow an Indigenous tradition of speaking the name of a recently deceased person only sparingly, and with great reverence. "She is here," said Davis, "and she is eternal."

Related Topics: DULUTHMUSIC
Arts and entertainment reporter Jay Gabler joined the Duluth News Tribune in February 2022. His previous experience includes eight years as a digital producer at The Current (Minnesota Public Radio), four years as theater critic at Minneapolis alt-weekly City Pages, and six years as arts editor at the Twin Cities Daily Planet. He's a co-founder of pop culture and creative writing blog The Tangential; and a member of the National Book Critics Circle. You can reach him at jgabler@duluthnews.com or 218-279-5536.
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