Haddix book details Charlie Parker’s Midtown roots

Midtown’s role in Charlie Parker’s life was a missed note until a new biography recorded it.

Chuck Haddix, director of the Marr Sound Archives at UMKC, put it in his book, Bird, the Life and Times of Charlie Parker.

It turns out that Parker lived in two Midtown apartments as a boy and walked to Penn School at 4237 Pennsylvania Ave. He strolled to it down Broadway, past the lavish Uptown Theater, swank apartment buildings and shops.

And when school let out, the children went to the nearby Manor Bakery in Westport to get day-old bread and pastries.

That is a totally different story than the one that had prevailed, Haddix said.

Parker biographer Chuck Haddix.

“No one had really written about his life in Kansaås City,” he said. “He lived his first 21 years in Kansas City and he died when he was 34.”

And what had been written about his time here was wrong.

Before, it was said that Parker and his parents moved from Kansas City, Kansas where he was born in 1920, to 1516 Olive St. near 18th and Vine.

The Parker residence at 3527 Wyandotte.

But in reality, they moved first to 3527 Wyandotte St. and lived there from 1927 to 1930 and then moved to 109 W. 34th St, living there from 1930 to 1932.

Then his father left and his mother moved to the Olive Street address, Haddix said.

Before that, Parker attended Penn School, which opened in 1868 as the first school for African-Americans west of the Mississippi River.

It was a three-story, red brick building that stood on a limestone outcropping just west of Broadway. A plaque on a rock wall across Broadway from the veteran’s memorial is all that marks its existence now. It says the school closed in 1955 and burned down in 1969.

Parker’s nickname, “Yardbird” or “Bird” was foreshadowed by a school pageant called “Birdland” in which children dressed in bird costumes, the book reports.

A music teacher caught the boys goofing off and said “you yard birds” get back in school.

Parker started calling chickens, which were his favorite food, yard birds. Years later when a driver ran over a chicken on the way to a band gig in Nebraska, Parker told the man to stop and pick up the yard bird, and his nickname was born.

Parker’s life as a boy also not as rough as some have portrayed, Haddix said. The Midtown area was predominantly white and middle class.

Parker’s father worked as a janitor in a brick 6-plex on the northeast corner of 36th and Wyandotte streets.

At first, the family lived in an upstairs apartment in a brick 4-plex at 3527 Wyandotte, just north of the apartment complex where his dad worked.

In the summer of 1932, Parker’s parents split up and his mother found work as a custodian at Western Union in Union Station, rented a big 2-story house at 1516 Olive St., and took in boarders.

The Parker residence at 109 W. 34th.

In 1933, Parker enrolled in Lincoln High School where he took to its music programs. He played baritone sax in its band and orchestra, but his mother did not like how small it made him look so she bought him an alto sax.

The book quotes what an upper classmate said of it: “ragged as a pet monkey, rusty and patched up with rubber bands.”

Parker never finished high school. In 1935, at age 14, he started playing professionally in Kansas City with the Ten Chords or Rhythm.

He became a star in Kansas City and his wings spread from there nationwide.

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