Nellie Monk passed away at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan on Tuesday from a cerebral hemorrhage. She was 80. As the wife of Thelonious Monk from 1947 until his death in 1982, Nellie provided emotional support and everyday guidance to her husband, who was known for his idiosyncrasies and unconventional style of living. As Ben Ratliff of the New York Times wrote in his obituary for her, “Of all the stories about jazz musicians who cannot quite handle worldly matters and the companions who manage their lives, the long love affair of Thelonious and Nellie Monk may be the most famous. Monk, a socially awkward eccentric who was absorbed in his art and lived through his imagination, depended on Ms. Monk and relished her company.”
Born as Nellie Smith in St. Petersburg, Fla., Monk relocated to New York with her family as a young girl. Eventually settling in the San Juan Hill neighborhood of Manhattan, Nellie and Thelonious met on the local basketball court in their teens. Nellie worked several odd jobs, including one as a seamstress, to support herself and Thelonious, and took care of many of the business issues related to his career, including paying musicians and organizing travel arrangements. One of Thelonious’ most famous compositions, “Crepuscule With Nellie,” was written for his wife in 1957.