Charlie Monk, an upbeat music industry networker and radio personality known as the Mayor of Music Row, died at home Monday afternoon. He was 84.
Monk, who co-founded the popular Country Radio Seminar more than 50 years ago, earned his nickname by glad-handing and encouraging others for decades in country radio and country music publishing. He hosted the career-launching New Faces show at that radio seminar more than 40 times.
An Alabama native who grew up dirt poor, Monk fought hard to make something of himself − and to be famous, he told The Tennessean three years ago.
Though he felt he never reached that second goal, Monk launched a career in radio and music publishing in which he helped propel many artists to superstardom.
"I’ve helped a lot of people achieve their goals," he said. "I found out I was better at touting other people than I was at touting me.
"I finally reconciled with the fact that I’m not a superstar. I ultimately became the best Charlie Monk there was," he said in 2020. "That’s great. I really feel that way."
Among those grateful they met Monk are some of the biggest stars of the genre, including Garth Brooks.
"I love you, pal. I can’t thank you enough for all you’ve done for me," Brooks said in a recent video tribute to Monk for being honored by the Nashville Association of Talent Directors.
"But the truth is, you’ve done it for everybody. You’re one of those guys who knows a lot about everything.... Seriously, man, every time I talk to you, when I leave you, I’m ready to go out and kick the world’s a**. And that is a gift you have. Thank you for sharing it with me."
"He always has a big smile on his face and has done so much for country music. I love him to pieces!" Reba McEntire said. "He has been around forever, and I know, because I have been, too!"
Hillbilly music on a battery-operated radio
Monk grew up in Geneva, Ala., population 4,400, with a chip on his shoulder. He spent the rest of his life fighting against the ghosts of those few who said he and his family weren't worth a lick.
"The girls wanted to date me. I was the best dancer in town, charming, smart, funny and cute," Monk said, his smile turning into a wince.
"The mothers didn’t want their daughters dating me because their daughters might bump in to my family, who smoked, drank, cussed and chewed."
Monk's father left his mother when he found out she was pregnant in 1938. Monk, his mother, stepfather and siblings grew up eating government cheese in a house with no plumbing and no running water.
The family listened to hillbilly music and big band music — with lots of Frank Sinatra — on a small, battery-operated radio.
Monk read Hollywood magazines and gawked at big celebrity houses on those pages for hours. He eventually got a job putting promotional flyers on people's windshields for the town's movie theater, a job that paid in free tickets.
"I sat there in the dark and fantasized," he said. "I always wanted to be a star. I wanted to have a big fancy car."
In high school, Monk went to WGEA radio station in his hometown, got a job cleaning up for $5 a week, eventually landed a weekend on-air shift and found a way to call a bunch of girls in town. Monk's family didn't have a phone, so he used the one at the station incessantly.
Monk eventually settled on one girl, Royce, his wife of 63 years. The couple moved around as Monk's radio career took off. He went from Geneva to Troy to serving in the U.S. Army to Tuscaloosa to Mobile.
Charlie Monk Lane
In 1968, Charlie and Royce Monk moved to Murfreesboro to program WMTS, one of Middle Tennessee's first full-time country format stations, which Jim Reeves' widow, Mary, has just purchased.
Once he got to Middle Tennessee, Monk quickly found his way onto Music Row, first working at royalties-collecting agency ASCAP, then as a song publisher, helping folks like Randy Travis and Kenny Chesney get writing and record deals.
Around 1969, Monk helped radio promotions man Tom McEntee start Country Radio Seminar as a way for the handful of all-country stations to battle the Top 40 pop stations that dominated radio.
No parties, no free booze, none of the artists' concerts or shmoozing events that CRS is known for today. It was some media professors and industry experts trying to figure out how country radio could increase sales, Monk said.
Since then, CRS has grown into a weeklong convention that draws more than 2,000 people, a convention peppered with live performances and artist showcases all over Nashville for out-of-town radio programmers.
And since then, Monk has been inducted into the Country Radio Hall of Fame, the Alabama Music Hall of Fame and the Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame. His hometown renamed a street "Charlie Monk Lane."
Monk returned to radio in 2004, on satellite's SiriusXM country channels, as the Mayor of Music Row.
He continued to say hello and shake hands with people when he was out in public. It was a trick he learned from Frank Sinatra, whom he saw greet every one of the 50 people backstage at a private Opry party in 1974.
'Truly the definition of a Music Row storyteller'
Monk said he even reintroduced himself to people he has already met.
"It saves people from embarrassment if they can’t remember your name," Monk said.
The stars certainly remembered his name and his tenacity in getting pictures with them, pictures that later in his career he posted immediately on Facebook.
"Whatever it is, you’ve always been all over it like a rash that won’t go away," Dolly Parton said, smiling, in a video tribute marking Monk's honor from the Nashville Association of Talent Directors.
"For every press conference that I’ve done in Nashville to every Country Radio Seminar that I’ve been to, and the movie that we did years ago, 'Blue Valley Songbird' — oh, you was the star of that, wasn’t you, Charlie? — to always trying to get another picture with me.
"Well, you’ve earned your designation as Mayor of Music Row, I can tell you that," Parton continued. "And in all seriousness, you truly are the definition of a Music Row storyteller."
Monk served on the boards of Leadership Music, the Country Radio Broadcasters, Nagtional Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, Nashville Songwriters Association International, Gospel Music Association and Nashville chapter of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artist. He also was a member of the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music.
His honors include induction into the Country Radio Hall of Fame, The Alabama Music Hall of Fame, the University of Alabama College of Communication and Information Sciences Hall of Fame and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame.
Monk received awards from the Alabama House and Senate, the Country Radio Broadcasters, Inc., SESAC (1998 Publisher of the Year), BMI (publisher for “Most Performed Song”) ASCAP (publisher for “Most Performed Song”) and Nashville Songwriters Association International.
He earned a CLIO Award for commercial voice work, an Addy Award and awards and honors from the Mobile Press Register, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences and the Nashville Association of Talent Directors. In 2021, Monk became the ninth recipient of the CMA’s Joe Talbot Award for “outstanding leadership and contributions to the preservation and advancement of Country Music’s values and traditions.”
Funeral arrangements are still pending.
Monk is survived by his wife, Royce Walton Monk; sons Charles, Jr. (Sukgi) and Collin (Grace); daughters Capucine Monk and Camila Monk Perry (Scott); sisters-in-law Peggy Walton-Walker Lord (Larry) and Elsie Walton (Colin Hamilton); grandchildren Sam (Christina), Nathan, Christabel, McKenna, Theodore, Ella, Walton and Douglas; great-grandchildren Alexis and Sophia; and nieces Clara and Linda and nephews Wayne, Brian and Chip.
The family has designated publicist Jackie Marushka, email@example.com, to receive any inquiries.
Reach Brad Schmitt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-259-8384 or on Twitter @bradschmitt.
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Mayor of Music Row Charlie Monk, beloved networker, dies at 84