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Angela Parrish

May 01, 2017

Be About ‘the Hang’

Alumna Angela Parrish, who sings the opening song in La La Land, reflects on the experience.

I met my drummer, Jose Perez (a University of North Texas Jazz Studies graduate), the first day I moved to Los Angeles. I went to The Mint, a live music venue in Los Angeles that I had never been to, in order to hang with a group of musicians I didn’t know and listen to a Snarky Puppy concert. I had all of my belongings stuffed into (and on top of) my 2007 Honda Fit, which was my temporary home.

Everything about my first day in Los Angeles was terrifying and uncertain. The only thing that assured me that everything was going to be OK was the fact that I had been connected to these people through my UNC network.

During one of my first classes of my master’s curriculum, Professor Jim White told us that his career was in no small part about “the hang,” the great people who invest in each other and take care of each other. He instilled the idea that this business is about human beings, and that’s where the joy and the magic of the music comes from.

It stuck with me.

Those musicians I met that first night became my regular band, my go-to session guys, and my dear friends. The roller coaster of Los Angeles has bonded us deeply, during the times of doubt and struggle as well as the triumphs of our careers. Three years after we met, Jose referred me to his friend Ryan Svendsen in the music department at Lionsgate to audition for a singing role in a film.

I had no idea that referral would turn into the opportunity to be the opening voice of La La Land. I knew it would be an incredible and meaningful piece of art I’d be proud of forever, but I know none of us who made the film could’ve predicted what La La Land would become. (Editor’s note: The film won six Oscars, was nominated for eight more, and won seven Golden Globe awards, including Best Picture — Musical or Comedy.)

The experience brought several distinct joys. Of course, the feeling of getting to make a piece of art that will be a legacy has made me feel deeply fulfilled as an artist. The fact that my father, who has Parkinson’s disease, was able to experience this career success for me has meant everything to my family. And the fact that this movie was made by incredible, kind, warm, and dedicated creatives has affirmed my belief that the best in the business really are the best people.

Damien Chazelle, Justin Hurwitz, Marius de Vries, Steven Gizicki, Nick Baxter, and Jasper Randall (the creative team I worked with) were some of the kindest and most welcoming creatives I’ve ever met (and clearly some of the most incredibly talented). It has been so rewarding to watch them receive their due for something they worked on so diligently for many years. It has been a huge blessing to be surrounded with wonderful human beings throughout my career.

I have my alma mater to thank for that. Thank you for teaching me that the best cats on the bandstand are also the best cats off the bandstand. I am so lucky to be a UNC Jazz Studies alum, and I can’t wait for the next hang.

–Angela Parrish ’12