Alice Parker was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on December 16, 1925, to Mary Stuart and Gordon Parker. As a child, she learned to play piano, violin, and clarinet. She studied composition and music theory with Mary Mason at the New England Conservatory.
Parker attended Smith College, graduating in 1947 with a double major in organ and composition. She went on to study choral conducting at Juilliard, then became a teacher while also collaborating with Robert Shaw on arrangements of materials to be recorded by the Robert Shaw Chorale, formed in 1948. Parker went on to became the primary arranger for the Robert Shaw Chorale for 20 years. She was on the cover of Time magazine in 1947. The chorale disbanded in 1965.
In 1954, Parker married Thomas Pyle, a member of the Robert Shaw Chorale. They had five children. Pyle died unexpectedly in 1976, leaving her to care for their five children. She moved to western Massachusetts, and, in 1985, she founded Melodious Accord. The Musicians of Melodious Accord is a professional chorus that has released fourteen albums. The Melodious Accord Fellowship Program brings young mid-career musicians from all over the world to study with Parker.
She has composed over 500 pieces of music, including operas, song cycles, cantatas, choral suites, and anthems.
Parker served on the Board of Directors of Chorus America. She was their first Director Laureate. Among her many awards, Parker has received the Distinguished Composer of the Year 2000 by the American Guild of Organists, the 2014 Brock Commission from the American Choral Directors Association, the Harvard Glee Club Foundation Medal in 2015, six honorary doctorates, and the Smith College Medal. Parker is a Fellow of the Hymn Society of the United States and Canada. She has been awarded grants from ASCAP, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Aaron Copland Fund for Music, and the American Music Center.
To celebrate Parker's 90th birthday in 2015, choral groups worldwide posted performances of her work on YouTube, as part of a project called Alice Is 90.