Strike Up the Band for Robert Andrew Parker’s Birthday

Robert Andrew Parker is 87 today.  Parker is an expressionist artist and illustrator whose art has appeared in magazines such as Fortune, Esquire, New York, New Yorker, and Sports Illustrated as well as on book covers and album covers.  He uses both watercolors and acrylics, and at one point after having a surplus of acrylic paint, has watered down acrylic paint to be used as watercolor.

mghl_robert andrew parkerby Robert Andrew Parker, undated

Parker is also a musician and a jazz lover.  He plays the drums and has previously played reeds, clarinet and soprano saxophone.

mghl_robert andrew parker 02by Robert Andrew Parker, undated

Parker grew up listening to jazz which was the main music heard in his house.  His mother’s classical music albums were seldom played.

mghl_robert andrew parker 03by Robert Andrew Parker, Mahalia Jackson album cover, Newport Jazz Festival, 1958

Parker sees his artwork and his music as separate : “generally, one doesn’t feed the other.”  However, he has often illustrated musical themes for magazine articles and album covers.

mghl_robert andrew parker 04by Robert Andrew Parker, for New York, March 10, 1980

Parker studied art at the Art Institute of Chicago.  While at the Institute, he bought paperback books that had covers he thought were ugly and would draw new ones as an exercise.  He never expected to actually have a career that included illustrating book covers, since he never thought his style of artwork would appeal to illustration clients.

mghl_robert andrew parker 05by Robert Andrew Parker, proof of book cover, date unknown

After graduating from the Art Institute in 1952, he went to New York.  There he taught art for the New York School for the Deaf.  He later had a show at the Roko Gallery.  Not only did the Museum of Modern Art purchase several of his works, but an editor for Seventeen attended the show and asked Parker to do an illustration for the magazine.  Parker then began getting illustration assignments for magazines and advertisements.

mghl_robert andrew parker 06by Robert Andrew Parker for Travel and Leisure, April 1988

Parker prefers to draw his illustrations quickly.  For some illustration requests for pharmaceutical advertisements in the late 1950s, he would draw conceptual drawings in just several minutes.  Parker would then wait several weeks before submitting them, so that the client wouldn’t think that he just rushed through the assignments.

mghl_robert andrew parker 07book cover for Piano Starts Here, 2008, written and illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker

Parker has illustrated over 90 children’s books, plus many poetry books and literary classics.  A biography on jazz musician Art Tatum, Piano Starts Here, is the first children’s book that Parker both wrote and illustrated.

Here is an image he painted of Tatum as a four-year old while creating the book.

mghl_robert andrew parker 08by Robert Andrew Parker, ca 2008

This is the final image used in the book.

mghl_robert andrew parker 09by Robert Andrew Parker, Piano Starts Here, 2008, page 5

Modern Graphic History Library wishes Robert Andrew Parker Happy Birthday.


The Piano Starts Here book cover and page 5 image are from the children’s book that is available in Modern Graphic History Library’s reference collection.

All other images are from the Robert Andrew Parker Collection.

Information for this biographical sketch came from:

Dooley, Michael. Robert Andrew Parker On Life And Illustration. Print Magazine, April 15, 2013.

Heller, Steven, ed. Innovators of American Illustration. Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1986.

McNally, Owen. Jazz And Art Fuel Robert Andrew Parker. The Courant, July 31, 2011.

About the author

Andrea Degener is the Visual Materials Processing Archivist in the department of Special Collections at Washington University Libraries.