About The Artist
From 1940 the team of Rex and Eleanor Parker, who became the Parker Family after their daughters joined them in the late 1950s, were fixtures on radio and later TV in southern West Virginia. From 1959 on they played sacred music exclusively. The Parkers were well known in their home area, but seldom played shows outside of the Mountain State or adjacent parts of nearby states. For the most part their recordings also had limited circulation. After Rex died, Eleanor sometimes was accompanied by her daughters and continued to do her Sunday radio program.
Both Charles "Rex" Parker (September 30, 1921-June 2, 1999) and Eleanor Niera (February 28, 1922-March 24, 2018) were products of the West Virginia coal fields. Somewhat atypically, Eleanor was the daughter of Spanish (or perhaps Catalan) immigrants and lived with relatives in New York City while she received her secondary education at William Cullen Bryant High School. Rex had a different kind of education, working with various hillbilly groups and becoming a skilled mandolin picker.
After Eleanor came back to West Virginia in 1941, they married at the ball park that August 31 in Beckley where Rex was working with a band at WJLS. The next day they went to work on their own show at WHIS in Bluefield where they were fixtures for the next eighteen years. Sometimes they also did shows at other stations in the coalfields such as in Princeton, Oak Hill, and Welch. Among other musicians both Bobby Osborne and Larry Richardson worked with them briefly before moving on to the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers. The Parkers recorded for Cozy in the late 1940s, including the initial versions of their best-known songs "Build Your Treasures in Heaven" and "Moonlight on West Virginia," the latter becoming better known through a Columbia effort by Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper. In 1952, they cut a pair of Korean War songs for Coral.
By the late 1950s, the Parkers were joined by their daughters Concepcion (better known as Conizene) and Rexana (July 24, 1945-September 23, 2016). A son Charles played music sparingly. After a 1959 conversion experience the Parkers played sacred music almost exclusively and recorded on the King and Audio Lab labels. T heir Songs for Salvation program was featured for several years on WOAY-TV and a Sunday morning radio offering at WAEY in Princeton. Although they did duets, Rex was more of an instrumentalist on banjo, mandolin and electric guitar while Eleanor did emcee work, solos, and could even testify and preach a little. Rex did session work on mandolin for two sessions with the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers on RCA Victor in 1952 while the Fiddlers' fiddler played on their Coral session. Country singer Darnell Miller who went to work at WHIS Bluefield in 1953 stated that he considered Eleanor almost as a second mother.
Conizene eventually married Cecil Goffand and moved to Indiana working as a nurse. Rexana married Fred Champ but continued working with her parents. Rex and Eleanor in the early 1970s recorded two singles on the Country Sun label and a sacred album for Joyful Sound.
By the end of that decade the TV program ended but their radio program continued into the new century. The played frequently in area churches as well. Professor Howard Dorgan included a chapter on the venerable couple in his book Airwaves of Zion. In 1997, Governor Cecil Underwood presented them with a distinguished West Virginian Award.
After Rex died, Conizene returned from Indiana and helped Eleanor on the radio program. Both of the Parker daughters preceded Eleanor, a tough survivor, in death. When she passed at age ninety-six, Eleanor was buried beside Rex in the McClaugherty Cemetery in Princeton, West Virginia.
Credits & Sources
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