Butterfield Pays Tribute to Jazz Icon Thelonious Monk on 100th Birthday

Oct 10, 2017
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – Congressman G. K. Butterfield (NC-01) today delivered remarks on the Floor of the U.S. House of Representatives to honor the life of influential jazz musician Thelonious Monk on his 100th birthday.  Monk was born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina on October 10, 1917.


Butterfield Pays Tribute to Jazz Icon Thelonious Monk on 100th Birthday
Click here or on the image above for video of Rep. Butterfield’s remarks.


Mr. Speaker, I rise today to recognize one of the most innovative jazz musicians of all time, the legendary Thelonious Monk.  Monk was born in my Congressional District in the State of North Carolina and would have turned 100 years old today.


Thelonious Sphere Monk was the second of three children born to Thelonious, Sr. and Barbara Monk on October 10, 1917, in Rocky Mount, North Carolina.


Though Monk and his family left Rocky Mount for New York City when Thelonious was a child, scholars and fellow musicians say Monk’s North Carolina roots had an important influence on the man and his music.


Writer Sam Stephenson credited Thelonious Monk’s Carolina roots in the Oxford American, writing that Rocky Mount’s flourishing tobacco culture and rail yard was one of the largest in all of the South the year Monk was born.  Stephenson speculated those railways may have inspired Monk’s composition “Little Rootie Tootie,” which features train whistle sounds.


            Mr. Speaker, incidentally, the City of Rocky Mount, North Carolina is divided between two counties- Nash County and Edgecombe County- and the railroad is the dividing line.  Every day, the CSX train and the Amtrak train come through this community as they have done for a very long time.  Those train tracks were first established in 1855- before the Civil War- and it was established as the Wilmington to Weldon railroad. This was the longest railroad in the world, consisting of more than 160 miles of track.  This railroad came through Mr. Monk’s hometown.


Thelonious Monk began studying classical piano at age eleven, and showed an early aptitude for the instrument.


By the time Monk was thirteen years old, he had won the weekly amateur competition at the Apollo Theater so many times that management banned him from re-entering the contest.


In 1941, Monk began working at Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem, where he joined the house band and helped develop the school of jazz known as “bebop.”


Alongside fellow jazz greats, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Eubie Blake, Monk honed his fast and often improvised style that would later become synonymous with modern jazz.


Thelonious Monk’s first known recording was made in 1944, when he worked as a member of the Coleman Hawkins Quartet.  Monk did not record under his own name, however, until 1947, when he played as the leader of a sextet session for Blue Note.


In 1947, Monk married Nellie Smith, his longtime sweetheart.  Two children were born to the marriage, whom they named after Monk’s parents, Thelonious and Barbara. 


In 1952, Monk signed a contract with Prestige Records, which produced pieces like Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Bags’ Groove, which he recorded with Miles Davis in 1954.


In 1956, Monk released his third album, Brilliant Corners, which is considered by many to be his first true masterpiece. 


In 1957, the Thelonious Monk Quartet, which included John Coltrane, began performing regularly, with tours across the United States and Europe.


Mr. Speaker, by 1964, Monk was popular with the mainstream audience and became one of four jazz musicians ever to grace the cover of Time Magazine.


The years that followed included several overseas tours, but by the early 1970s, Monk was ready to retire from the limelight. 


After battling illness for several years, Monk passed away from a stroke in 1982.


Thelonious Monk has since been inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame and the Grammy Hall of Fame, added to the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry, awarded a Pulitzer Prize, and featured on a United States postage stamp.


Thelonious Monk left a legacy as one of the originators of modern jazz music.


And that’s why the City of Rocky Mount is so proud of their native son.  They celebrated this past weekend, honoring the life of this great musician.


Mr. Speaker, I ask my colleagues to join me today in paying tribute to an outstanding artist, Thelonious Monk, as his family, the residents of Rocky Mount, and the country prepare to celebrate his 100th birthday.


I yield back.