Celebrating Black Musicians From North Carolina

Emily Hicks
Staff Writer

PC: Emily Hicks

This Black History Month, take some time to step back into the past and appreciate the incredible amount of talented black musicians that were born in our very own state of North Carolina. From jazz to folk to rap, North Carolina artists truly cover it all.

Born in 1933 in Tryon, North Carolina, Nina Simone was destined to do great things in her seventy years of life. At a young age, Simone dreamt of being a concert pianist. Yet, after being denied from several classical piano programs, she ended up taking a different path, eventually becoming a sensational vocalist after training at the Juilliard School of Music in New York. Later, she received an honorary degree from Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music, just days before her tragic death after a long battle with breast cancer.

Having recorded over forty albums in her musical career, Simone was a musical icon with undeniable vocal talent. To this day, several of her hit songs are still popular. In her personal life, Nina Simone was full of passion. She performed at several civil rights meetings in the 1960s and supported revolution and black nationalism alongside Malcolm X during the Civil Rights Movement. Though she died in 2003 in France, Nina Simone will be long remembered for her contributions to society, both through beautiful music and social change.

Seven years Simone’s senior, John Coltrane was born in North Carolina as well. At age twelve, however, Coltrane lost his father, aunt and both grandparents over the span of six months, leaving him to be raised by his mother and cousins. As an adult, Coltrane joined the Navy to avoid being drafted into the army. It was during his time in the Navy that his musical talent was discovered, and he joined his base’s swing band, “The Melody Masters.”

After being discharged from the Navy, John Coltrane dove head first into a musical career in Philadelphia. He went on to work with King Kolax, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk in his career, later veering towards classical jazz quartets as he grew older. Unfortunately, John Coltrane died young at the age of forty due to liver cancer. Before his death, though, Coltrane was inducted into the Jazz Hall of Fame and posthumously awarded several Grammys. His Philadelphia home is now a National Historic Landmark as well.

Born on Oct. 10, 1917, the famous Thelonious Monk was also born in our state of residence. Though born in Rocky Mount North Carolina, Thelonious Monk and family moved to Manhattan in 1922, where Monk grew up. At the age of six, Thelonious Monk fell in love with the piano. For the rest of his life, this passion would cloud nearly everything else. He went to high school in his neighborhood, San Juan Hill, but never graduated.

At the young age of seventeen, the talented musician went on tour with an evangelical preacher playing the organ. After this, he bounced from jazz gig to gig, later finding work as a pianist at a Manhattan nightclub in the forties. This nightclub job provided Monk with the environment where he developed the beginnings of his harsh, percussionist style of piano.

Without Thelonious Monk’s unique, hard-hitting style, music from some of the greats such as Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker never would have been made. His first studio recording was in 1944 with the Coleman Hawkins Quartet. Later in his career, Monk would go on to record with Prestige, Riverside and Columbia records. He married and had two children with his wife, Nellie. His son, T.S. Monk, is still living, and he followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming a jazz drummer.

Thelonious himself died of a stroke in 1982 after a long period of isolation and mental illness. Four years after his death, the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz was established. In 2009, Monk was inducted posthumously into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame.

In honor of Black History Month, take the time to recognize local black heroes– in music and all other industries.

Categories: Arts & Entertainment

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