Events to celebrate Monk’s 100th birthday


Thelonious Monk


Staff Writer

Monday, September 25, 2017

Several events have been lined up in Rocky Mount to celebrate a notable jazz pianist legend.

The Rocky Mount/Edgecombe Community Development Corp. will be holding its 18th annual Thelonious Monk Jazz Festival on Oct. 6-7. The occasion will mark the 100th birthday of Monk, who was born on Oct. 10, 1917, in Rocky Mount. Monk passed away on Feb. 17, 1982.

The Rocky Mount native was known as an eccentric giant of jazz music with a unique improvisational style and was renowned for his distinctive style in suits, hats and sunglasses. He is the second most-recorded jazz composer after fellow jazz legendary composer Duke Ellington and is one of five jazz musicians to have been featured on the cover of Time magazine.

Monk’s classic work is also immortalized in the Smithsonian Institute. Joyce Dickens, president of the Rocky Mount/Edgecombe Community Development Corp., said Rocky Mount and Edgecombe County are proud to recognize and commemorate a jazz legacy with Southern roots.

“Monk was a jazz genius, and his music was so interesting that it was something of an acquired taste,” she said.

Dickens added it took her and the Monk committee several months to put together everything for the two-day weekend. The schedule of events will kick off with the Twin Counties Young Professionals event from 7 p.m to 11 p.m. Oct. 6 at the Imperial Centre for the Arts and Sciences. The event is $30 per person and cocktail attire is preferred. There will be live entertainment by the 7th Hour Grooves Masters Band.

The Monk celebration will continue on Oct. 7 will a series of free public events. It will begin with the Thelonious Monk marker dedication ceremony, which will be an erection of a marker in his birth neighborhood from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Thelonious Monk Park at 920 S. Washington St. 

Later, a two-hour event will take place from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Booker T. Theatre. Author Robin D.G. Kelley will have a book signing of his 2009 published book called “Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original.”

People will also be able to watch the 90-minute 1988 documentary of the life of the bebop pianist and composer called “Straight, No Chaser” that features live performances by Monk and his group and posthumous interviews with friends and family. Pamela Monk Kelley is scheduled speak about the life and career of Thelonious Monk. 

Kelley’s parents were the last owners of the house where Thelonious Monk was born. Kelley’s father was Thelonious Monk’s cousin. Kelly and several of her relatives in the past have boarded a train from New Haven, Conn., to Rocky Mount to celebrate the family ancestry.

The day will continue with a Monk celebration from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Rocky Mount Mills, which will feature live entertainment by pianist Ernest Turner of Durham. It will conclude with the Monk 100th birthday jazz celebration from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Thelonious Monk Plaza on the Douglas Block.

“The RMECDC’s goal is to implement a cultural tourism economic development strategy that will grow into an international festival because Thelonious Monk was known all around the world,” Dickens said.

Bobby Monk, a cousin of Thelonious Monk, will also have a separate 100th year birthday celebration for Monk and a fundraiser event for his Monk statue project from 4 to 10 p.m. Oct. 6 at the DoubleTree hotel. The event will be presented by the Monk US Memorial Foundation. 

There will be music by the Eddie Anderson Project and also other live musical performances. Eddie Ray, operations director and vice chairman of the N.C. Music Hall of Fame Museum, will be the guest speaker. Tickets for the event is $25. 

For the past few years, Bobby Monk has been looking to raise  funding to help erect a $255,000 life-sized bronze statue of Thelonious Monk, and his original goal was to have the project done for the Monk’s 100th birthday and placed in front of the Rocky Mount Train Station. He also has asipirations of starting a cultural center and museum featuring the work of Thelonious Monk in Rocky Mount.

“Those projects are going to benefit the city from a revenue standpoint and also be a tourism attraction to the city,” Bobby Monk said. “I’m going to continue to push forward in making these projects happen.”