The Most Haunting Band Picture I’ve Seen


The band of the "Asylum for Colored Insane" in Goldsboro, North Carolina. Date unclear.

Folklorist Sarah Bryan shared this photograph with me this week.  She first saw it in an exhibition in Goldsboro, N.C. at Cherry Hospital which was originally named Asylum for Colored Insane.  The Asylum was founded in 1877 by the North Carolina General Assembly.  After admitting its first patient in 1880 the name was changed several times and it became Cherry Hospital in 1959. I grew up 65 miles east of Goldsboro.  When I was a kid, if you did something deemed stupid or crazy, people would say, “Keep doing that and you’ll end up in Cherry Hospital.”  Thelonious Monk’s father spent the last two or three decades of his life there; hence, my original specific interest, which Sarah knew about.  But this photograph makes me think of a lot more work to be done beyond Thelonious, Sr.  You can make out some nurses in the background of the photo.

Along with the regrettable social and political impetus and ramifications of the existence of this institution at its inception, I’m haunted by what might be the date of this photograph.  On the wall next to the picture there was an ambiguous card indicating the picture may date to 1900.  If true, it could complicate some elements of jazz history.  To my knowledge, brass sections like this weren’t known to exist in places like rural North Carolina.  I’m not enough of a historian of this period to verify the date by the clothing.

-Sam Stephenson


  1. Tom Maxwell Said,

    February 1, 2012 @ 2:43 pm

    An amazing photo, and document. Thank you.

    This need not be a jazz band. From the look of things, it could be a fairly canonical marching or brass band line-up. In other words, these guys might have been playing Souza, not Buddy Bolden. But, as Fats Waller would say – “one never knows, do one?”

  2. Jesse Pyrant Andrews Said,

    February 2, 2012 @ 10:15 am

    A wonderful photograph. I believe the clothes are later than 1900, though. Too bad there are no recordings of them. But perhaps there are. thanks, Sam

  3. Gray Whitley Said,

    February 10, 2012 @ 10:04 am

    …. was the train station in Wilson NC a transport point for the Monk family – possibly to visit Thelonious, Sr?
    however, I believe the tracks do route straight to Goldsboro NC. I did hear of Thelonious Monk’s mother being picked up by relatives at the Wilson NC train station – interesting the same train route goes through Rocky Mount NC.

  4. admin Said,

    February 10, 2012 @ 2:21 pm

    Gray, thanks for the comment. Where did you hear that about Monk’s mother? Monk’s father’s side of the family was from Newton Grove which is not far from Goldsboro. I haven’t studied the railroad history enough to know exactly which lines they would have taken, but I’d like to. Adding intrigue to all this for me is that John Coltrane titled one of his tunes “Goldsboro Express” which is named for the rail line his uncle worked on. – Sam