Ken Whitten knew the moment he heard Skye Parrish’s voice inside his church sanctuary that her parents had given her the perfect name.
“Just beautiful,” recalls the senior pastor at Idlewild Baptist Church in Tampa. “A voice of an angel.”
Turns out, there’s a story behind that name.
When Susan, Skye’s mother, was in labor, her dad was trying to keep her spirits up. Wayne, ever the wise guy, was grappling with some potential monikers for their third child, starting with the ones that legendary rocker Frank Zappa gave his children.
“How about Moon Unit? How about Dweezil?” he teased her. Susan wrinkled her nose. No way.
So he threw his hands in the air and searched for another. Hey, instead of the moon, how about the sky? Susan broke into a smile. She loved it, and it stuck.
Skye loves that story.
She’s 24 now, a studio vocalist based in Nashville. Last summer, she began touring with Mandisa, a fifth-season “American Idol” competitor who recently won a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Christian Music album.
And 2013 was a banner year for her, as well. Though Skye vowed never to date a musician, love has a way of changing minds. She married Blaine Reedy, 25, in a destination wedding in Sisters, Ore. He plays bass for a country group.
“It’s a bit of an odd pairing,” she says, laughing. “Sometimes he’s coming when I’m going, so we make the most of our time together.”
Later this month, Skye Parrish Reedy will come home to Tampa, where it all began, when Mandisa’s tour swings through Central Florida.
“I’m living the dream,” she says. “It’s hard work, and it’s not as glamorous as some people might think. But I’m doing what I love. Not everyone can say that.”
And other than one loss that can never be replaced in her life, she will tell you just how lucky and blessed she is.
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Skye has been singing as long as she’s been talking.
It came naturally. She loved music, and loved how she felt when she belted out a song in her strong soprano. Maybe she got the passion from her mom, who sang for fun and modeled for a little pocket change in her youth.
Susan and Wayne gave their daughter encouragement every step of the way, just the way they supported her two older brothers in their endeavors. They didn’t push her, Skye says. “It was more like gentle guidance. I knew they had my back, whatever direction I took.”
She sang with karaoke machines, she sang with a pretend microphone in front of her bedroom mirror. She sang in church, festivals and recitals. Susan ferried her back and forth to vocal and dance lessons.
“She was always very good,” says her dad. “Good compared to what? I don’t really have a benchmark to measure her against. I just knew she was good.”
Susan, a smart and driven journalism major at the University of Florida, aspired to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a lawyer. But after meeting Wayne in college and marrying him, all she wanted to be was a mother. To her, that was the greatest profession of all. She home-schooled the kids, way before home-schooling was cool. She taught them about being good citizens and stressed the value of their Christian faith.
Put God first, she told the kids. Lean on him. He is always there for you.
The family relocated to Wisconsin for a few years when Wayne took another job. One day, Susan and the kids took a nature walk in the woods and were bitten by ticks. The physical effects were vicious: chest pains, leg numbness, strokes, seizures and weakness. They went to the Mayo Clinic for answers, and the doctors were baffled. It took nearly four years to solve the mystery. In the end, it was Susan who figured it out. Lyme disease. Their experience became a medical case study.
In the meantime, they returned to Florida. Their congregation, Idlewild Baptist, raised money to help with the more than $1 million in medical bills and did chores at their house. With financial assistance from the late George Steinbrenner, owner of the New York Yankees, they went to Texas for specialized treatment.
Slowly and miraculously, Susan and the kids recovered. Skye regained her strength and started singing again. She made her first demo CD at a recording studio and did a few auditions. In 2003, at age 13, she got to sing before 20,000 people, opening a concert for her favorite band, O-Town. She could feel she was getting close, oh, so close, to getting that big break.
And then a mole popped out on Susan’s arm. She went to her skin doctor for a checkup. He told her she was fine. A few days later, it got worse. More tests and a grim diagnosis: melanoma.
Though she was a longtime health nut, that didn’t matter. Susan’s immune system had been compromised by the years of treatment for the Lyme disease. She underwent surgery on her upper arm, and endured rounds of chemotherapy and radiation.
Given the nature of her cancer, Susan’s life expectancy was two years. She made it nearly six.
She was 47 when she died on March 30, 2006.
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Losing her mom at age 16 was devastating. In those final months, Skye was always by her mother’s bedside in their Wesley Chapel home. She assumed the role of primary caregiver while her dad worked as an insurance broker and her brothers were away at school.
She would play worship CDs and hold her mother’s hand, feeling the life seep out of her. Though it was too hard to sing, listening to the recorded music gave her comfort. It was the first time she really felt God’s presence in the art she had pursued so relentlessly; now it gave her such spiritual solace.
She felt lost and angry after her mom died. But a few weeks later, Skye could hear Susan’s voice: Hang on to the pain or hang on to God. She chose the latter.
Skye finished her schooling at Tampa Baptist Academy (now Tampa Bay Christian Academy). She loved the close-knit family atmosphere and the strong faith foundation it provided.
When she was named homecoming queen her senior year, Wayne took Skye shopping for a dress at International Plaza. After going in and out of the stores with no success, Skye broke down in tears.
“What’s wrong, honey? We’ll find you a dress,” Wayne said.
“It’s not that,” she cried. “It’s just that everyone else is here with their moms.”
Susan dreamed of Skye going to Belmont University in Nashville. Its prestigious school of music is considered one of the country’s best. Minnie Pearl, Trisha Yearwood and Brad Paisley are among its famous graduates. Getting in isn’t easy. It’s a two-part process, based on grades and an audition. With a glowing letter from her pastor, Ken Whitten, Skye was accepted.
Leaving her dad and brothers back in Tampa for the unknown wasn’t easy. She had a safety net of support from her family, church and school. But she knew if she was going to make it in this profession, she had to take the necessary steps. Belmont proved to be a perfect fit, giving her the education, the training and the confidence she needed in the highly competitive music market. When she got her bachelor’s degree with an emphasis in commercial voice in 2011, Skye decided to stay put in Nashville, knowing it was the Emerald City for musicians. She had built enough relationships and made enough contacts to start getting gigs right away.
Her success doesn’t surprise Wayne, not in the least.
“She’s driven, she’s focused, she makes good decisions, and she keeps her eye on the prize,” he says. “Most important, she’s got a heart for God and a heart for people. She’s so much like her mother.”
Wayne has remarried. Margaret, the mother of three boys, is an emergency room nurse at Plant City Hospital. Like Wayne, she also lost her spouse to cancer. Skye is thrilled her dad doesn’t have to be alone and loves her stepmother — even though she is a Florida State Seminole whose blood runs garnet and gold.
She isn’t through dreaming. One day, Skye says wistfully, she and Blaine will live on a horse ranch in Montana. Music will always be a part of their lives, in some form or another.
As for Susan, Skye knows this much. Her mom is always there at her concerts, sitting in the best seat in the house.