The childhood of Hamlet’s own John Coltrane, jazz musician extraordinaire, was typical of African-Americans of his time.
Born on September 23, 1926 in Hamlet, NC, John’s parents were John and Alice Blair Coltrane.
There is a cornerstone of a building on East Hamlet Avenue stating where he was born. However, his stay in Hamlet was short-lived; his family moved to High Point, NC when he was just a small child of two or three years old. But the fact remains that he was born here in Hamlet.
As a young child he was noticed in school as being a bright and promising student. He was known to be quite the shy one and he was always tidy and well-dressed. Perhaps one reason for him being tidy and properly attired was that his father John owned a dry cleaning business and was also a tailor.
But young John was known to be not only smart in regard to his school work but also very mischievous (though he had a knack for avoiding actually being caught doing anything that would have gotten him in any real trouble). He also had a wide-open sense of humor and laughed a lot, but was still a bit shy. So it seems he was a happy child with opportunities within his reach.
Well, as one would guess, music filled his house; both parents were either singing and/or playing various instruments, and of course young John joined in. When he was about 12 he joined a small community band that was under the direction of his Scout leader and that is where he got his start with the alto saxophone.
But shortly after the beginning of playing his instrument tragedy struck hard: he lost both his grandfather and his father within a few weeks of each other.
Various things occurred after losing both large figures in his young life to include him now living with his aunt and his mother, thus leaving him with a lack of adult male supervision. He found solace in practicing his instrument all alone and started exploring the wandering notes and sounds of Jazz music for endless hours.
By the time he became a senior in high school he – with the blessing of the principal of William Penn High School in High Point – started a school band and did quite well with this in the process. Young John was voted “most musical” at his school.
He graduated from high school in 1943 at the age of 16. Just after graduating high school he left High Point to study music.
Editor’s note: This article was contributed by John Martin, a new addition to the team of writers at the Richmond Observer, and constitutes the initial installment of John’s ongoing series on the life and times of Hamlet’s John Coltrane, arguably one of the greatest jazz musicians in history.