Her ethereal, calming voice provided a soft cushion to her husband’s stormier output and the wild noise of the grunge era from which their band emerged. For three decades, she steadily, humbly co-helmed one of Minnesota’s most celebrated rock groups of all time.
On Saturday night, Mimi Parker of the internationally renowned Duluth rock trio Low was silenced by cancer.
News of her death at age 55 was announced Sunday in a statement by her husband and bandmate, Alan Sparhawk, on Low’s Twitter feed.
“Friends, it’s hard to put the universe into language and into a short message, but she passed away last night, surrounded by family and love, including yours,” the post read. “Keep her name close and sacred. Share this moment with someone who needs you. Love is indeed the most important thing.”
The drummer in Low as well as the co-vocalist, Parker was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in December 2020.
She is survived by daughter, Hollis, and son, Cyrus, (both college-aged), as well as her husband, who she met in grade school in the small town of Clearbrook in northern Minnesota.
Practicing Mormons — their faith often played out in song lyrics alluding to end times, morality and redemption — the couple took to the rock ‘n’ roll touring life soon after they moved to Duluth and formed Low in 1993 with a series of different bass players.
They released 13 studio albums and steadily gained in stature over the ensuing years. The latest of those records, “Hey What,” was among several to earn widespread critical acclaim, including an appearance high on Rolling Stone’s list of the 50 best albums of 2021.
“Mim was a singular and earth-shaking voice [and] a beautiful and caring friend,” Trampled by Turtles frontman Dave Simonett said Sunday from the road, using the nickname Sparhawk and close friends had for Parker.
“She made some of the most beautiful music this world has known. We are going to miss her very much.”
Parker mostly kept her diagnosis under wraps until an interview with the syndicated public-radio show “Sheroes” in 2021. Even after that interview, she declined to make her cancer treatment a point of discussion in news stories about Low until the band was forced to cancel tour dates in August.
Among the concerts put off were a U.S. trek opening for Death Cab for Cutie and headlining dates in Europe. Low had a strong following across the Atlantic, which could be traced to early, avid support from influential BBC DJ John Peel and tour dates with Radiohead, one of many more-famous bands to cite the trio’s influence.
One of the best-known fans of the group was Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant, who re-recorded two Low songs on his 2010 album “Band of Joy.”
Low’s initial albums such as “I Could Live in Hope” were famously serene and — true to the band’s name — low in volume and tempo, qualities that rather infamously saw the music term “slow core” overused in reviews. That forever changed with 2005’s noisier masterpiece “The Great Destroyer,” the band’s first of seven records for famed Seattle label Sub Pop Records of Nirvana fame.
“It never felt forced, or anything but natural,” Parker said of their amped-up sound in a 2005 Star Tribune interview. “We’d be working on the songs and sort of looking at each other like,`Where did that come from?'”
Probably the best-known of Low’s albums, though, was 1999’s “Christmas,” an eight-song collection of new and traditional holiday tunes rife with the couple’s icy harmonies as well as their true Christian faith. It would pop up in TV commercials for the Gap and make many lists of rock’s best Christmas albums.
Parker, Sparhawk and new bassist Liz Draper managed to perform in clubs and at festivals across America and Europe in the first half of 2022 riding the success of “Hey What,” before Parker needed more treatment.
In an interview this summer, Parker said she and Sparhawk made a point of spotlighting their uniquely tight-knit singing parts on the well-received 2021 album.
“When we got to recording the vocals on this record we were like, ‘Whoa!’ ” she said. “They were kind of striking and centered. We were just singing pretty good. So that became kind of a cornerstone.”
The trio squeezed in one final short set in Duluth this past Labor Day weekend for the Water Is Life environmental rally at Bayfront Festival Park. Their last Twin Cities performance was a meaningful one: The group headlined and curated the Garden Stage in June at what turned out to be Walker Art Center’s final Rock the Garden festival, where Low had made waves in 2013 with a droning improv set.
Draper recalled a moment during one of the band’s last shows this summer when an audience member yelled out, “Mimi, you’re an angel!”
“I remember thinking whoever yelled that was right: Mim is a bright light, and we’ve been blessed with her force and grace here on earth,” the bassist said.
“Mim was stoic and kind. She was an incredible mother. Low really was a matriarchy, and I feel so incredibly lucky to have gotten to make music with her.”
Low’s longtime sound engineer Tom Herbers, who worked with the band since 1994 and practically became a fourth member, said he was used to still being “emotionally overwhelmed during a show, even after all these years” because of Parker’s “transcendent” voice.
Off stage, Herbers added, he valued “her humor and sharp wit and no-b.s. attitude.”
Reactions to Parker’s death quickly piled up on social media Sunday, where many fellow musicians and fans celebrated her music career as well as her reserved, positive and steady personality.
“Grateful for all your beautiful music,” Dan Wilson of Semisonic fame tweeted.
Gaelynn Lea, a fellow Duluth musician, wrote, “Mimi’s legacy is love and beauty, and the world is better because of her.”
Jeff Tweedy of Wilco — who produced Low’s 2013 album “The Invisible Way” and frequently recruited them as openers — posted a musical tribute on his Substack feed featuring his own version of the somber song “I Hear … Good Night,” which Low originally recorded with Australian instrumental trio the Dirty Three.
Sub Pop Records tweeted in response to the news, “Forever close and sacred. We love you guys.”
Duluth Mayor Emily Larson addressed a tweet to Sparhawk and the 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.”