Walter Parks '75
Walter Parks, class of 1976, was honored as the 2014 Alumnus of the Year, and was also the first inductee into the St. Johns Arts Hall of Fame. He was born and raised in Jacksonville. As an elementary student in Duval County Public Schools, he took advantage of the classical music program and began playing the viola. He transferred to St. Johns in Grade 9 and started playing guitar when he was 15 years old. Walter formed his first band, The Parental Tears Band, named as an ode to the band member's parent's dread that their children would pursue music careers. The band played at the St. Johns Homecoming dance in 1975.
At St. Johns, Walter was a strong student, graduating 9th in his class of 26. He was in the band, and also played baseball, soccer, and basketball during his upper school years.
After graduating from St. Johns, Walter followed his parent's wishes and enrolled in business school at the University of Georgia. He served in the Student Union organization that promoted big concerts and enjoyed being a part of the behind the scenes set up for the shows. Walter transferred to the University of Florida system and started playing music more seriously around the Jacksonville area. The music business was calling him and Walter chose to pursue music rather than finish his degree.
In the early 1980s in Jacksonville, Walter formed a fusion jazz band called Sneakers. He managed his own clothing store by day and had gigs with his band by night. Through his clothing store, he took quarterly buying trips to New York City and began to fall in love with the pace and energy of the city. In 1989, after winning a Tangueray Rocks talent contest piloted by rock impresario Don Kirschner, he took his first original electric band, Dear John, to New York. The burden of running a big band in the city led him to simplify and form an acoustic duo called the Nudes with cellist Stephanie Winters. They recorded three albums and enjoyed a successful career touring U.S. colleges and folk festivals, serving for a short while as Woodstock legend, Richie Havens' support act. Walter returned to New York in 2000 as a label manager for indie MPress Records and then in 2001 he was asked to join Richie Havens band. He accompanied Richie from 2001-2011 in some of the world's most recognizable venues, including Madison Square Garden, Carnegie Hall, The Cannes Film Festival in France, The WOMAD Fests in New Zealand and Australia, and the Jazz Cafe in London. When Richie retired in 2009, Walter focused his attention on writing and recording both as a solo artist and with his Florida-centric swamp vibe band called Swamp Cabbage. Singer Songwriter and Grammy Award winner Judy Collins said this: "Walter Parks is an extraordinary singer whose songs can break your heart as well as get you dancing. Lyrical and political, personal and otherworldly at the same time, transcendent as well as down to earth, Walter is a musical treasure, an artist of the highest caliber. To hear him is to be lifted into a mystical sphere. I adore him."