Brown featured in Indy Opera’s ‘Charlie Parker’s Yardbird’


The role of Addie Parker was made for Angela Brown.

Brown debuted the role of Charlie Parker’s mother, Addie Parker, in June 2015 at Philadelphia’s Perelman Theater. She will reprise the role in the Indianapolis Opera’s production of “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird,” set for 7 p.m. March 16 at Madam Walker Legacy Center in Indianapolis.

The story focuses on the legendary saxophonist and one of the inventors of bebop. The premise has Parker’s soul linger between life and death, and his spirit returns to his famous New York City jazz club called Birdland, where he is challenged to compose a final masterpiece

The Indianapolis soprano said the story follows Addie from a young mother to the time of Parker’s death from a heart attack at age 34 in 1955. Parker was a heroin addict.

“Addie is a role that was created for me, so I was able to put my fingerprints on her first and being able to draw from all of my ancestors like my mother and my grandmother and thinking about all the Black mothers in the community,” Brown said. “When I was growing up, that poured into me. I’m able to put flesh on the bones of Addy and just imagine how she felt having a son that was multitalented that she loved and adored, but that had vices in life and the fear and the anguish and the pains that she gets to come out four separate times in this 90-minute opera. She’s giving you frustration, she’s giving you joy and adulation. She’s giving you fear, and she’s also giving you grief, so it’s been great to portray.”

Brown said she has reprised the role in all but two of the presentations. It was the first opera to be performed at the Apollo Theater in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood. It’s also been performed in London.

“I never gave birth to a child, but I have three stepsons,” Brown said. “I know how much I love them and seeing them go through as Black men in America. This was a woman before the Civil Rights Movement who was proud of her son but she knew he was a drug addict. He also was married and had a child, but he also was playing around on his wife and he liked white women. She knew at that time she could be lynched or killed in Kansas City, Mo.”

Brown said the music is accessible to audiences.

“You hear the names of the different pieces that he made famous,” Brown said. “It was all scored on a saxophone. You feel the influences of bebop throughout the opera.”

Brown described the opera as a 90-minute “ghost story,” which opens with Parker dying.

“The premise is Charlie Parker is coming back to write a symphonic piece that he’s always wanted to write,” Brown said. “He dies in a white woman’s apartment, his benefactor. So, he has been placed in a morgue as John Doe. He comes back in spirit form. While his spirit is writing this music, he is visited by his mother, his best friend Dizzy Gillespie and his three wives. They are all telling him he’s a genius, he’s well-loved but he has to get off the drugs. Finally, there is a funeral and he is set free.”

Brown can’t remember the last time she performed at Madam Walker.

“I’ve done special programs,” she said. “I’ve never done an opera or some type of stage play, but I’ve definitely sung there.”

Brown said it’s fitting to be held at Madam Walker because Parker performed at the jazz clubs nearby on Indiana Avenue.

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