Charlie Parker in Kansas City, Kansas

By Chuck Haddix, Marr Sound Archives

Charlie Parker grew up in Kansas City, Kansas, a community divided against itself by the Missouri/Kansas state line. The two Kansas Cities were worlds apart. While Kansas City, Missouri, famously cultivated graft and corruption in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Kansas City, Kansas, led the temperance movement. Charlie Parker lived in both worlds; he was born in Kansas City, Kansas, and came of age as a man and musician in Kansas City, Missouri. 

Aerial view of Kansas City, Kansas.
Aerial view of Kansas City, Kansas. Courtesy Kansas Room Special Collections, Kansas City, Kansas Public Library.

He was born on August 29, 1920, to Charles and Addie Parker. Like other African American migrants from the South, Addie and Charles came to Kansas City seeking a better life. They met and married in 1916. Addie moved in with Charles at his mother Ella’s duplex at 844 Washington Boulevard. The extended family included John Anthony, Charles’s son from a previous relationship. The family affectionately called him Ike.

Portrait of Addie Parker
Addie Parker. Courtesy Norman Saks Personal Collection.

When Addie became pregnant, the couple moved down the hill to a two-room apartment above the Kesterson and Richardson Grocery Store at 852 Freeman Ave. Jon Anthony stayed behind with his grandmother. Working as a waiter on the railroad, Charles spent long stretches of time away from home. While at home, though, he drank excessively and ignored Charlie and Addie. Charles and Addie separated in 1924, and Addie stayed in the apartment and found work as a cook. Charles moved back up the hill to Ella’s home. 

Charlie and Ike as young children sitting outdoors
Charlie and Ike. Courtesy LaBudde Special Collections, UMKC Libraries, Jay McShann Collection.
exterior of Douglass School
Douglass School. Courtesy Kansas Room Special Collections, Kansas City, Kansas Public Library.

Addie fussed over Charlie and dressed him in the finest clothes. In 1925, Charlie enrolled in Douglass School, located a block west of Ella’s home. Classmate Oliver Todd recalled Charlie as a “scrapper,” who was “small for his age then.” Charlie attended Douglass through the second grade. In 1927, Addie and Charles reconciled and moved to Kansas City, Missouri.