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Tue, 12.27.1921

Nellie Monk, Devoted Businesswoman born

Nellie S. Monk with Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane

Nellie Monk was born on this date in 1921. She was a Black business manager.

Nellie Smith was from St. Petersburg, FL, and was brought up in San Juan Hill, the Black area of Manhattan.   She met Thelonious when she was 14 and he was 17. Monk's mother had protected him from much of the stress of life and he was dependent on and very fond of her.  When they married (1947), Nellie moved into his room to live, so that he wouldn't have to leave his mother.  They stayed in the house until 1972.  When, as frequently happened, times for Monk's music were hard, Nellie supported them by working as a seamstress and also made some of his clothes.  For Monk had created a musical world of his own and was already in it when she married him.

At this time, he had begun recording for Blue Note, and those recordings, between 1947 and 1952, were probably his finest work. In 1951, he was with another eccentric genius of the piano, Bud Powell, when a packet of heroin belonging to Powell was found.  Monk, who didn't use heroin, was nonetheless sentenced to 60 days in jail. The police withdrew his cabaret card and for six years he was unable to play in New York nightclubs, a desperate blow to the couple's already frugal finances.

Monk's compositions were unique in their originality.  Despite his authorship of "Round Midnight," his most famous ballad, few of his compositions surpassed the beauty of his "Crepuscule with Nellie" written for his wife while she was undergoing surgery in 1957. If it had been left to the pianist, he would never have led a band of his own. Thanks to Nellie he did, and, when his quartet became a fixture, she learned the music business by necessity.

She collected his fees, paid his musicians, and organized the day-to-day workings of his tours.  Nellie Monk took her husband's shortcomings in stride. An intelligent woman, she became the go-between in any interviews he gave.  Monk tended to respond to journalists' questions with a glazed silence. During the 1960s, Monk toured Europe seven times with his quartet and went three times to Japan. He began to make a lot of money, but his health deteriorated. He was confined to the hospital for several spells and Nellie never left his side.

In 1972, the year of Monk's last recordings, the couple moved to New Jersey to live in a room at the house of their old friend Baroness Nica de Koenigswarter. From then until his death in 1982, Monk rarely left the room and hardly ever touched the baroness's piano.  In 1984, their daughter Barbara died.  Their son, Thelonious, Jr, became a distinguished jazz drummer and leads his own band.  Nellie Monk, wife, and representative for her husband, Thelonious Monk, one of the most influential pianists/composers in jazz; died in New York on June 25, 2002.

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