Catherine 'Kitty' Parham, 78, gospel singer and choir director

Posted: July 09, 2003

Catherine "Kitty" Parham, 78, a gospel singer and choir director whose long career included international tours as a member of the Clara Ward Singers and the Stars of Faith, died of heart disease and heat stress June 27 at home in West Philadelphia.

Miss Parham was found in her home by her pastor, the Rev. Robert L. Hargrove of the Holy Temple Church of God in Christ. The home's windows were closed and the air conditioner was not turned on, according to Jeff Moran, spokesman for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health.

Miss Parham sang her first song in church at age 8, standing before the congregation of St. James Baptist Church in Woodbury, where her father was pastor.

She directed choirs as a teenager and after high school moved to New York, where she sang with groups including the Charles Taylor Singers. Miss Parham's fiery solo caught the ear of the Philadelphia-based Clara Ward Singers one night, and Miss Parham was asked to join the group.

She sang on such hits as "I'm Packin' Up" and "Surely, God Is Able," delivering solos on records such as "We Shall Be Changed."

"Her voice had an anointing," said Linwood Heath, a gospel music historian and announcer on WNAP-AM (1110) Gospel Highway 11 radio station. "She was a great showman," he said, known for a gripping voice and stage presence.

Miss Parham traveled around the world with the Clara Ward Singers but departed the group in 1958. Disagreements over financial matters split the group, and Miss Parham and several other members left to form the Stars of Faith.

The new gospel ensemble performed internationally, including appearances in the Langston Hughes Christmas musical, "Black Nativity." Miss Parham performed for popes and royalty in Africa and Europe.

Miss Parham was the music department president for the state division of the Church of God in Christ (COGIC). She founded the West Philadelphia District Choir and produced an album with a COGIC youth choir in the early 1960s.

"She was a mentor, mother, aunt for so many," said Harold Thompson, minister of music for the state division of the Church of God in Christ. "She molded the lives of many gospel singers of today."

Surviving are sisters M. Alice Parham and Marcia A. Johnson; brother Leroy; four nephews, and two nieces.

A viewing will be 6 to 9 p.m. tomorrow at Friendship Baptist Church, 111 Perry St., Trenton. Another viewing will be 3:30 to 7 p.m. Friday at Holy Temple church of God in Christ, 60th and Callowhill Street. Funeral services will follow at 7 p.m. Burial will be in Greenwood Cemetery, Hamilton Township.

Contact staff writer Kristin E. Holmes at 215-854-2791 or kholmes@phillynews.com.

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