Thelonious Monk tipped hat to state with ‘Carolina Moon’

“My father was an AME Zion minister in Badin, North Carolina, and the Albemarle area, and one of the reasons I was so drawn to [Thelonious] Monk’s music was because I recognized right away that all of his rhythms were church rhythms. It was very familiar to me. Monk’s brand of swing came straight out of the church. You didn’t just tap your foot, you move your whole body.

“We recorded ‘Carolina Moon’ [in 1952] as a tribute to our home state, with Max Roach on drums. Max was from Scotland Neck.”

— Band member Lou Donaldson, quoted by Sam Stephenson in “Thelonious Monk: Is This Home?” in the Oxford American (Fall 2007)

Even though Benny Davis, who co-wrote “Carolina Moon” in 1924, denied its connection to North Carolina, Monk’s rendition surely deserves a genealogy of its own.


‘All they grow south of us are palmettos and other nuts’

On this day in 1962: Deflating state archivist H.G. Jones’ hopes of establishing that the song “Carolina Moon” refers exclusively to North Carolina, lyricist Benny Davis insists that the question leaves him “really at sea.”

Jones was inquiring at the behest of Gov. Terry Sanford, who had been startled to see S.C. Gov. Ernest Hollings jump to his feet when “Carolina Moon” was played at a governors’ conference. In his letter to Davis, Jones noted that “one has only to read the lyrics to know that you were dreaming of the Tar Heel state as you wrote them. Even the word ‘pining’ gives it away. North Carolina is the state of the long leaf pine. All they grow south of us are palmettos and other nuts.”

Jones is similarly unsuccessful in nailing down the state’s claim to “Carolina in the Morning.”