African American Studies


Interviewee: Jacqueline Smith Bonneau

Interviewers: Mark Naison, Robert Gumbs, Robin Kelley

Transcriber: Patricia Wright

Date of Interview: February 5, 2004

Summarized By: Eddie Mikus

Jacqueline Smith Bonneau is a resident on Lyman Place who has resided in the Bronx since the 1940s. She is especially notable due to the fact that she is the niece of Thelonius Monk, a famous musician. As such, she is able to provide a personal insight into Monk’s life.

Bonneau moved to Lyman Place from Home Street when she was a young child. She was the daughter of a Pullman porter and a woman who performed domestic work at Brighton Beach. Music was a part of Bonneau’s life growing up, as her father played jazz, religious, and classical records. Additionally, Bonneau also received musical instruction at the Bronx House School of Music, where she received instruction in both playing an instrument and in music theory. However, she was not encouraged to listen to genres like R&B or Rock-and-Roll. Additionally, her parents, on account of Seventh-Day Adventist religious beliefs, did not allow her to attend school dances.

One of the more notable aspects of Bonneau’s life was her relationship with Thelonius Monk, a reputed musician the husband of her father’s sister, Nelly. Bonneau said that Monk used to come over to her house on a weekly basis. Additionally, Bonneau also visited her uncle at the house of his friend, Elmo Hope, where they played on Hope’s piano along with several other famous musicians. However, Bonneau did not realize that her uncle was a famous musican, as she viewed his visits as those of “Uncle Thelonius coming by” (Bonneau 25); likewise, her friends did not pester her to obtain her uncle’s autograph. Bonneau saw her uncle perform at a concert in 1959 and was introduced to a Baroness with whom Monk was friends.

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Bonneau, Jaqueline Smith.mp4 (212359 kB)