Wednesday, 23 September 2020 17:45

Coltrane Blueroom opens in Hamlet as museum to honor 'Jazz Messiah'

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A small crowd visits the Coltrane Blueroom in Hamlet, which opened on Wednesday as a museum to honor the jazz legend. A small crowd visits the Coltrane Blueroom in Hamlet, which opened on Wednesday as a museum to honor the jazz legend. William R. Toler - Richmond Observer

HAMLET — Richmond County now has another physical reminder that jazz legend John Coltrane was born here.


On Wednesday, Sept. 23 — what would have been the saxophonist’s 94th birthday — Dr. Fred McQueen opened up the Coltrane Blueroom. 

The Coltrane Blueroom is on the corner of Hamlet Avenue and Bridges Street, which is the building where he was born in 1926.

It started years ago when McQueen learned from Coltrane’s uncle John Blair that the pile of rubble was the “Jazz Messiah’s” birthplace.

“It was all the way down to the ground,” McQueen said.

So McQueen and the late Dr. Wendell Wells restored the building using the original brick in the late ‘80s.

The outside of the building has plaque designating it as an historic landmark.

McQueen said he decided to turn the room into a museum to honor Coltrane, who died in 1967 due to complications from liver cancer.

“He was born here, so it’s only fitting,” he said. “He was a great musician, great man; I just wanted to honor him.”

Coltrane was born at 200 Hamlet Ave. in Hamlet Sept. 23, 1926 to John and Alice Blair Coltrane, but grew up in High Point.

He joined a community band at the age of 12 and started a school band at William Penn High School, where he graduated at 16 before moving to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Coltrane served a short stint in the U.S. Navy and went on to meet and make music with other jazz greats including Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonius Monk and Miles Davis. 

Gillespie, nearly nine years older than Coltrane, was born in Cheraw, South Carolina, and attended the Laurinburg Institute on a music scholarship before also moving to Philadelphia.

Coltrane overcame alcohol and heroin addiction and was named “Jazzman of the Year” by Down Beat magazine in 1965.

This isn’t McQueen’s only contribution to recognizing Hamlet as Coltrane’s birthplace.

In the late ‘80s, when Jim Martin was governor, McQueen was instrumental in securing the historical marker on U.S. 74 Business.

He also lauded the mural, completed in mid-June, as a standout in letting people know Coltrane was born in Hamlet.

The mural is the first in a planned series by artist Scott Nurkin of musicians born in the Tar Heel State.

“There’s not a lot of mention about who he is and the fact that he was born in this town, so it’s my intention to do something that sort of recognizes how great he was,” Nurkin told the RO about midway through the painting.

McQueen said the Blueroom previously served as the office for Helping to Improve Potential, or HIP, an organization where he and others taught “young boys how to be men.”

Visitors came by to see the collection of Coltrane memorabilia in the new museum as jazz tunes played in the background.

The walls of the room are, of course, painted blue and adorned with photos and paintings of Coltrane and other jazz musicians including Gillespie, Bessie Coleman, Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaugn.

A display case features posters, photos and a T-shirt with Coltrane’s image, as well as several albums, both on vinyl record and CD.

Booklets with photos of Coltrane were available for visitors to take.

McQueen said he is still looking for other Coltrane memorabilia for the museum.

Also at the opening, which ran from 9 a.m.-3 p.m., was Gerard Morrison, founder of the annual John Coltrane “Edu-tainment” Festival, which is generally held the first weekend in October.

The event, now in its 12th year of “celebrating roots and talents” of the Sandhills and Pee Dee Regions of the Carolinas, is going virtual this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For more information and a link for this year’s event, contact Morrison at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 347-286-8742.

 

Last modified on Wednesday, 23 September 2020 20:43