The late Fred Parris, the Five Satins’ founder, lead singer and writer of the group’s enduring R&B/doo wop classic, “In the Still of the Night,” has been honored with a mural in Hamden.
His legacy will live on, through his music, as well as his visage on the street-facing side of the Miller Memorial Library on Dixwell Avenue.
“My heart was bursting with pride,” said Emma Parris, Fred’s widow, who attended the mural ceremony on Saturday, June 17 along with hundreds of others. “I felt very proud for Fred to have been honored with that mural. And I know, when people asked Fred how he felt about different honors, he always said he was honored and humbled, and I know he was looking down feeling that way.”
The rendering of Parris, painted by Emida Roller, is part of a larger mural effort called MLK39 – Racial Equity Mural Tour. RiseUp For the Arts, a non-profit institution, partnered with the Town of Hamden, local businesses, organizations and community members to create through fundraising and community involvement to create the mural. It is RiseUp’s 16th mural honoring Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s legacy and the goal is to place 39 murals across the state. Each mural is unique in how it celebrates diversity and cultures of the community, according to RiseUp.
Hamden’s mural pays tribute to King but also honors members of the community past and present. The artwork is made to look like books on library shelves. Those that have passed on, such as Parris, have their books front-facing, with their images on the covers, while living honorees have side-facing books with their names on the spines. The mural honors a multitude of Hamden residents, from the late Samuel Augustus Jones, Hamden’s first African American career firefighter, to Zakiyah Harris, a young woman whose 2021 debut novel, The Other Black Girl, will soon become a Hulu series. The far-left side of the mural shows a librarian reading a book to a group of children. One child, looking toward the street, is third-grader Aniya Rivera, who attended Saturday’s event. A top student, she said she was honored to be part of the mural and added, “This mural is important to me because I represent the youth of Hamden.”
“It inspires me to continue to lead by example and let my light shine, so that I might inspire other youth,” said Rivera. “We are the next generation of leaders.”
Members of the local musical community came out for the mural. Among others, attendees included Artie Dixon, a drummer who used to play for Miles Davis; Noel Gibilaro, who has backed Parris and his Satins on guitar going back to 1990; and vocalist Richie Freeman, who has been Parris’ longest serving group member. He first joined The Five Satins in 1958, six months after graduating high school.
Asked about the mural, Freeman responded, “It’s the way it should have been a long time ago, but at least it was done. Whoever thought about it, kudos to them. They finally acknowledged the man who was the nucleus of The Five Satins…and he was basically responsible for the music industry waking up to a lot of the black groups that came out of New Haven.”
Longtime doo wop deejay Jim “The Curator” Santa Barbara, who has a radio show on WESU, and had Parris as a guest on his show a few times, said to this reporter before the event kicked off at noon, “I’m thrilled for Fred.”
He added, “His song, ‘In the Still of the Night,’ was certainly a memorable song that will live on forever. It’s a song that has become part of Americana and it’s a song that we’ll keep in our hearts forever.”
Also in attendance at the mural ceremony was 91-year-old Pat Dillon, who attends St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in New Haven, of which Fred and Emma Parris were also parishioners. The Parrises and Dillon often sat next to one another during Sunday services.
“I didn’t know she was going to be there,” said Emma, ‘And she happened to be sitting right behind me. And she said there were no other seats when she arrived, and that’s where they let her sit. And I just kind of thought, and she felt the same way, like Fred kind of orchestrated that from above.”
By Kirk Lang