One of the innovators of the bebop jazz style was born in North Carolina. His musical style is credited with transforming the jazz world.
North Carolina native son Thelonious Monk was known as the ultimate hipster and a virtuoso musician. His third copyrighted composition, “Round Midnight” is the most recorded jazz standard of all time. Along with Dizzy Gillepsie, he is credited with being an architect of the bebop jazz style.
To recognize Monk’s singular achievements in the world of jazz, a N.C. Highway Historical Marker will be dedicated to him on Friday, May 4, at 5 p.m., in Rocky Mount at U.S. 64 East and North Washington Streets. The area also will be named Thelonious Monk Plaza. The marker dedication is part of the town’s weekend Harambee Festival which will include speakers, seminars and a jazz concert.
Monk’s father moved from Sampson County to the Around the Y community in Rocky Mount to be near the Atlantic Coastline Railroad where he worked. In 1914, he married Barbara Batts, who left Monk senior for New York with her children when Monk was four years old. Monk’s music was influenced by his churchgoing mother, and he dropped out of the prestigious Stuyvesant High School to go on a two-year tour playing piano for a female evangelist. The syncopated Harlem stride style piano style was a good fit for Monk’s gospel music background.
Elements of gospel and stride piano combined in Monk’s work to create a “rhythmic virtuosity,” which included striking dissonant notes and playing skewed melodies. His musical style was original and unorthodox, and so was he, often wearing a goatee, skullcap and bamboo rimmed glasses. Some viewed him as temperamental, eccentric, even childlike, and he was described by biographer Robin Kelley as essentially rebellious.
Kelley documents that Monk suffered from bipolar disease much of his adult life. He withdrew from public appearances in 1972 and was hospitalized intermittently until his 1982 death. One of his last extended stands was at the Frog and Nightgown club in Raleigh’s Cameron Village in 1970.
For information on the Harambee Festival and dedication events, call (252) 972-1333. For information on the highway marker program, call (919) 807-7290. The N.C. Highway Historical Marker Program is part of the Office of Archives and History in the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources.
About the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources
The N.C. Department of Cultural Resources annually serves more than 19 million people through its 27 historic sites, seven history museums, two art museums, the nation’s first state-supported Symphony Orchestra, the State Library, the N.C. Arts Council, and the State Archives.
Cultural Resources champions North Carolina’s creative industry, which employs nearly 300,000 North Carolinians and contributes more than $41 billion to the state’s economy.
To learn more, visit www.ncculture.com.