Radiohead and Robert Plant were both fans of the band she and her husband, Alan Sparhawk, led in Minnesota.
Her ethereal, soothing voice softened the harsher sounds of her husband’s music and the crazy noise of the grunge era, from which their band came. She was a steady and humble co-leader of one of Minnesota’s best-known rock bands for 30 years.
Cancer took the life of Mimi Parker, a member of the Duluth rock band Low, on Saturday night. Alan Sparhawk, her husband, and bandmate, wrote on Low’s Twitter feed on Sunday that she had died at the age of 55.
“Friends, it’s hard to say everything in a short message, but she died last night, surrounded by family and love, including yours,” the post said. “Keep her name close and sacred. Share this moment with someone who needs you. Love is, in fact, the most important thing.”
Parker, the drummer and one of the singers in the band Low, was told she had ovarian cancer in December 2020. Her daughter Hollis and son Cyrus, who are both in college, and her husband, whom she met in elementary school in the small town of Clearbrook in northern Minnesota, are the only people who will miss her.
As practicing Mormons, their faith often came out in song lyrics that talked about the end of the world, morality, and redemption. As soon as they moved to Duluth and formed Low in 1993 with a series of different bass players, the couple began rock ‘n’ roll touring.
They made 13 studio albums, and over the years, they became more and more popular. The most recent of these albums, “Hey What,” was high on Rolling Stone’s list of the 50 best albums of 2021 and received praise from many critics.
“Mim was a unique and earth-shaking voice and a beautiful and caring friend,” Dave Simonett, the lead singer of Trampled by Turtles, said Sunday from the road. “Mim” was a nickname for Parker that Sparhawk and other close friends used.
“She made some of the most beautiful music in the world, and we will miss her a lot.” Parker mostly kept her diagnosis a secret until 2021, when she talked about it on the public radio show “Sheroes.”
Even after that interview, she didn’t talk about her cancer treatment in news stories about Low until August, when the band had to cancel tour dates because of the illness.
Some of the shows that were canceled were a U.S. tour opening for Death Cab for Cutie and European shows where they were the main act.
Low had an extensive fan base on both sides of the Atlantic. This was due to early, strong support from influential BBC DJ John Peel and tour dates with Radiohead, who are just one of many famous bands to say that Low was an influence on them.
Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant was a big fan of Low. In 2010, he re-recorded two Low songs for his album “Band of Joy.” Low’s first albums, like “I Could Live in Hope,” were known for being calm and slow, just like the band’s name. Because of this, the term “slow core” was used extensively in music reviews.
That changed for good with “The Great Destroyer,” a noisier masterpiece from 2005. It was the band’s first of seven records for the famous Seattle label Sub Pop Records, which was also home to Nirvana. In an interview with the Star Tribune in 2005, Parker said of their pumped-up sound, “It never felt forced or anything but natural.”
“As we worked on the songs, we’d look at each other and wonder, “Where did that come from?” “Christmas,” an eight-song collection of new and traditional holiday songs released in 1999, is probably the most well-known of Low’s albums. It features the couple’s icy harmonies and their authentic Christian faith.
It was used in Gap commercials and was on many lists of the best rock Christmas albums. Parker, Sparhawk, and their new bassist, Liz Draper, were able to use the success of “Hey What” to play in clubs and festivals all over the United States and Europe in the first half of 2022 before Parker needed more treatment.
In an interview this summer, Parker said she and Sparhawk made sure the well-received 2021 album showed off their unique, close-knit singing parts. She said, “When we got to recording the vocals for this record, we were like, ‘Wow!'”
“They kind of stood out and were in the middle. We were just singing well, so that became a kind of cornerstone.” The three musicians played one last short set at the Water Is Life environmental rally at Bayfront Festival Park in Duluth over Labor Day weekend.
Their last show in the Twin Cities was a big one. In June, Low headlined and organised the Garden Stage at what turned out to be the previous Rock the Garden festival at the Walker Art Center, where Low had made a big splash in 2013 with a droning improv set.
Draper said that at one of the band’s last shows this summer, someone in the crowd shouted, “Mimi, you’re an angel!” The bassist said, “I remember thinking that whoever yelled that was right: Mim is a bright light, and we’re lucky to have her strength and grace here on earth.”
“Mim was quiet and nice, and she was an amazing mother. Low was really a matriarchy, and I feel so lucky to have been able to make music with her.”
Tom Herbers has worked with Low since 1994 and has almost become a fourth member. He said that even after all these years, Parker’s “transcendent” voice still makes him “emotionally overwhelmed” during a show.
Herbers added that he liked “her humor, sharp wit, and no-BS attitude” when she wasn’t on stage. On Sunday, people were quick to post about Parker’s death on social media. Many musicians and fans praised her music career and her calm, positive, and steady personality.
Dan Wilson of the band Semisonic tweeted, “Thankful for all your beautiful music.” Gaelynn Lea, another musician from Duluth, wrote, “Love and beauty are Mimi’s legacy, and the world is better because of her.”
Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, who produced Low’s 2013 album “The Invisible Way” and often booked them as openers, posted a musical tribute on his Substack feed. It was his own version of the sad song “I Hear… Good Night,” which Low originally recorded with the Australian instrumental trio the Dirty Three.
In response to the news, Sub Pop Records sent out a tweet that said, “Forever close and sacred. We love you guys.” Emily Larson, the mayor of Duluth, tweeted to Sparhawk and his family, “This community loves you, and we are here to support you. We are so sorry for the loss of your music, life, and family partner. May Mim’s beautiful voice and deep love echo beyond and light your path ahead.”