Photos Courtesy of: Eric J. Chambers The Jazzspel with Eric J. Chambers
( Inglewood, CA ) Gospel music sensation Kayla Denise Parker-Tolbert was remembered as a kind, fun-loving, incredible music arranger and artist on Saturday, April 28, 2007, at Faithful Central Bible Church in Inglewood, CA, a suburb of Los Angeles. She died from breast cancer on April 21, 2007, at age 35.
In a two and a half-hour service filled with laughter and songs, person after person shared their favorite “Kayla stories.” Many of the stories seemed to center around eating a meal or answering a question Kayla asked nearly everyone she met: “Haven’t you heard about me?”
For those who hadn’t heard about the Detroit native, it’s pretty safe to say you’ve heard her music. In fact, hers is the first voice you hear on Vickie Winans‘ latest CD “Woman To Woman.” Parker-Tolbert’s angelic voice-print is all over seven of the first ten tracks that she co-wrote and co-produced including the theme song, “Woman to Woman,” and the hot single, “It’s Alright.” She was also the lead producer on the gospel project of Michelle Williams of Destiny’s Child.
David Tolbert, Kayla’s husband of nearly three years, was overcome with emotion as he told those assembled about how special his wife was and the practical jokes they used to play on each other. “She was my best friend,” he said as his sister comforted him at the podium while Kayla’s mom, Aseneth, Kayla’s dad, Richard, and his wife looked on.
Long-time friend, CeCe Winans, sang “He’s Concerned,” a heartwarming selection written and arranged by Parker-Tolbert that appears on CeCe’s latest project. “She was special to me and my whole family,” said CeCe with a huge smile as she and her husband walked to the sun-drenched parking lot after service. “She was an incredible songstress and I’m going to miss her smile the most.”
Kayla’s former pastor, Marvin Winans of Detroit’s Perfecting Church preached the funeral. “I dubbed her incredible Kayla because of all the things she could do and hear musically,” he told the audience that included a large delegation from Detroit, including Special Gift, a women’s gospel group Parker-Tolbert once sang with.
Other highlights included an impromptu, foot-stomping duet of the Walter Hawkins classic “Thank You,” by Donnie McClurkin who called Erica Campbell of Mary Mary from the audience to help him. “Kayla Parker was the epitome of a loving woman. She knew everybody. The first time meeting her, she knew you like you were her long-lost cousin,” McClurkin told The Word Network’s Jazzspel TV Show afterwards. “It’s heartbreaking for a girl so young to be taken away from us, but God does all things well. It’s gonna be quite difficult getting past this one, but we will with the help of God.”
Alvin Chea, Joey and Mark Kibble of Take 6 were present. “It was absolutely amazing what she could do with her voice. She was absolutely gifted,” explained Mark Kibble. “It was non-stop music coming from her. She had a direct connect with the Holy Ghost.”
Other notables in attendance included Desmond Pringle and Anthony Hamilton, whom Kayla once sang background for. “She was amazing and very protective of me, making sure nobody tried to come in my space, but definitely she would add her own parts to my songs,” said Hamilton jokingly.
BeBe Winans sang a recessional song as the service ended with a family reunion-type gathering outside. “She was one of the most amazing arrangers I’ve ever experienced in my life,” Erica of Mary Mary told “The Jazzspel.” Said Kayla’s cousin, Sharon Braxton of North Hollywood, California, “She was a phenomenal person and I will miss her dearly.” Finally, McClurkin added, “She was a woman of God and I want the world to know you’ll hear her songs until Jesus comes back.”
Pastor Dorothy Evans of Refuge Christian Center of Pasadena, California officiated the service while the choir from First Church of God of Inglewood, California provided additional music.
Kayla’s final resting place is a beautiful, hillside cemetery about 20 miles east of Los Angeles. A midsummer’s memorial service is in the works for her hometown of Detroit. Visit www.KaylaParker.com for updates and a memorial foundation that’s being planned.
Tune in to a special Kayla Parker-Tolbert memorial edition of “The Jazzspel with Eric J. Chambers” on Saturday, May 12, 2007, at 4:30pm EST and 1:30pm PST on The Word Network. The show will features highlights and interviews from Kayla’s home-going service.