Nat King Cole was a legend, one that inspired and influenced many musicians that came after him. A leader in jazz music, Cole conquered the charts in the late 50’s and early 60’s, and is the first ever African American to host his own national television variety show, The Nat King Cole Show, and that, too, in an era of racism and harsh discrimination against black performers.
Cole originally started as a pianist, but his major claim to fame was due to his singing voice, which was described as soft and warm. He played a mean piano, though, and led a drummer-less jazz trio earlier in his musical career that was an innovation of its own. Early blending of Rock and Roll music is associated with Cole’s recordings of songs such as Straighten up and Fly Right, Get Your Kicks On and the 1957 hit Send For Me.
The King Cole Trio, Cole’s original claim to fame, was comprised of Cole on piano, Oscar Moore on guitar and Wesley Prince on double bass, later replaced by Charlie Harris, and they performed in a number of clubs and also broadcasted regularly on the radio before signing a contract with the Capitol Records in 1943. There was no turning back for Cole from there and he managed to give one hit after another, as a leader of the Trio and also as a solo artist. His all-time hits include The Christmas Song, Mona Lisa, Unforgettable and Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer.
Nat King Cole died of lung cancer when he was only 45, but his legacy continues in the form of his music, and his popularity remains unmatched even after his death. His daughter Natalie Cole is also a seasoned singer and performer in her own right, and in 1991, she helped Cole achieve a posthumous hit when she recorded his hit Unforgettable and put their vocals together as a duet.
Nathaniel Adams Cole, better known as Nat ‘King’ Cole, was an American musician, a leading jazz pianist in his own right; however he owed much of his fame and popularity to his soft baritone singing voice. Born on March 17, 1919 to a Baptist minister father and church organist mother, Nat King Cole would grow up to become the first African American to host a television variety show and gain immense worldwide popularity that continues even after his death to date.
In the beginning Cole started out as a piano man, which he had learned to play from his mother when he was only four years old. He began to take formal lessons in classical music when he turned twelve. He abandoned classical music altogether to pursue his passion for jazz, which also led him to quit school at the age of fifteen and pursue his musical career full time, at first with his brother Eddie, who was a bass player. Cole made his first professional recordings under his brother’s name but later he joined a national tour as a pianist for the musical revue Shuffle Along.
Nat King Cole cites his all-time favorite, Earl Hines, as his biggest inspiration, but he also used to listen to Louis Armstrong and Jimmie Noone. Perhaps it was the influence he gathered through Hines’ performances that made Cole put together a band of his own called the King Cole Trio. Cole toured extensively with his band, performing songs written by Cole himself. In 1943 with the song That Ain’t Right, the Trio finally managed to land on the charts. There was no turning back for the King Cole Trio from there and they managed to get successive hits on the charts with Straighten Up and Fly Right, The Christmas Song and I love You For Sentimental Reasons.
Cole started his solo career by 1950 and gave hits like Nature Boy, Mona Lisa, To Young and Unforgettable. He worked with America’s top musicians and arrangers like Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Nelson Riddle.
It was the age of the civil rights movement, and as an African American performer Nat King Cole was greatly affected by it. He, however, maintained the stance of being a true blood performer and not an activist throughout, and ventured on bravely even amongst attacks by white supremacists. He kept on recording his music and produced more hits like Rambin’ Rose and the all-time famous Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer.
Nat King Cole has been inducted into both the Alabama Music Hall of Fame and the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame. He was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1990, and in 1997 he was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame. In 2007, he was inducted into the Hit Parade Hall of Fame. In 2000, Cole was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as was deemed as one of the major influences on early rock and roll music.
Cole was a heavy smoker and was rarely seen without a cigarette in his hand throughout his life.
He was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1964, and died of the disease only after a few months, on February 15, 1965.
In 1964, Cole discovered that he had lung cancer. He succumbed to the disease few months later on February 15, 1965. Everyone he had worked with and all the important people of the entertainment world attended Nat King Cole’s funeral in Los Angeles.
Originally a piano man, Nat King Cole is generally known for his suave and well-articulated vocal style, which he used to perform in big band and jazz genres. A story known to have been encouraged by Cole himself is that his singing career didn’t start until after an eventful night at a club, when a drunken patron demanded that he sing and he obliged, after which people started requesting vocal numbers from him.
His earlier musical education comprised of classical music but it didn’t take him long to abandon that and pursue his love for Jazz music. Earl Hines, a leader in jazz music, was one of the biggest influences throughout Cole’s musical journey. In fact, the early beginning of Rock and Roll music is closely associated with Nat King Cole’s hits like Send for Me.
Nat King Cole did not just receive fame in the music industry, he was well known figure of the media industry of his time, being the first ever African American in history to host his own television show, The Nat King Cole Show, which featured many of the leading artists of the time such as Count Basie, Peggy Lee, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Tony Bennett. The show had to cancel, however, due to lack of national sponsors because of the racial discrimination at the time, with people having issues with black entertainers.
Cole’s hits like The Christmas Song, Mona Lisa, Nature Boy and Send for Me have become American songbook classics, and he has received many achievement awards notably the Grammy Lifetime achievement award in 1990. His albums continue to be released, The Complete Capitol Recordings of the Nat King Cole Trio being the most extensive one, comprising of three forty nine songs.
A style icon in his own right, Nat King Cole was a singer, player and entertainer Avant grade, he continues to inspire the future generations with his unparalleled devotion to the music he loved and the originality that he bought to the Jazz scene of his time.
Videos and Recordings
An Evening with Nat King Cole: