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Nat King Cole

Nat King Cole American singer and jazz pianist

American singer and jazz pianist
Nat King Cole
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro American singer and jazz pianist
A.K.A. Nathaniel Adams Coles, 00006485981 IPI, Nat “King” Cole
Was Singer Songwriter Musician Pianist Actor Jazz musician Guitarist Jazz guitarist Television actor
From United States of America
Type Film, Television, Stage and Radio Music
Gender male
Birth 17 March 1919, Montgomery, USA
Death 15 February 1965, Santa Monica, USA (aged 45 years)
Star sign PiscesPisces
Family
Siblings: Freddy Cole
Spouse: Maria Cole
Children: Natalie Cole
Genre:
Jazz
Instruments:
Piano
Organ
Guitar
Voice
Audio
Spotify
The details

Biography

Nathaniel Adams Coles (March 17, 1919 – February 15, 1965), known professionally as Nat King Cole, was an American vocalist and jazz pianist. He recorded over one hundred songs that became hits on the pop charts. His trio was the model for small jazz ensembles that followed. Cole also acted in films and on television and performed on Broadway. He was the first African-American man to host an American television series. He is the father of singer/songwriter Natalie Cole.

Biography

Early life

Nathaniel Adams Coles was born in Montgomery, Alabama, on March 17, 1919. He had three brothers: Eddie (1910–1970), Ike (1927–2001), and Freddy (b. 1931), and a half-sister, Joyce Coles. Each of the Cole brothers pursued careers in music. When Nat King Cole was four years old, the family moved to Chicago, Illinois, where his father, Edward Coles, became a Baptist minister.

Cole learned to play the organ from his mother, Perlina Coles, the church organist. His first performance was "Yes! We Have No Bananas" at the age of four. He began formal lessons at 12, learning jazz, gospel, and classical music on piano "from Johann Sebastian Bach to Sergei Rachmaninoff." As a youth, he joined the news delivery boys' "Bud Billiken Club" band for The Chicago Defender.

The Cole family moved to the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago, where he attended Wendell Phillips Academy High School, the school Sam Cooke attended a few years later. He participated in Walter Dyett's music program at DuSable High School. He would sneak out of the house to visit clubs, sitting outside to hear Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines, and Jimmie Noone.

Early career

When he was fifteen, Cole dropped out of high school to pursue a music career. After his brother Eddie, a bassist, came home from touring with Noble Sissle, they formed a sextet and recorded two singles for Decca in 1936 as Eddie Cole's Swingsters. They performed in a revival of the musical Shuffle Along. Nat Cole went on tour with the musical. In 1937, he married Nadine Robinson, who was a member of the cast. After the show ended in Los Angeles, Cole and Nadine settled there while he looked for work. He led a big band, then found work playing piano in nightclubs. When a club owner asked him to form a band, he hired bassist Wesley Prince and guitarist Oscar Moore. They called themselves the King Cole Swingsters after the nursery rhyme in which "Old King Cole was a merry old soul." They changed their name to the King Cole Trio before making radio transcriptions and recording for small labels.

Cole recorded "Sweet Lorraine" in 1940, and it became his first hit. According to legend, his career as a vocalist started when a drunken bar patron demanded that he sing the song. Cole said that this fabricated story sounded good, so he didn't argue with it. In fact there was a customer one night who demanded that he sing, but because it was a song Cole didn't know, he sang "Sweet Lorraine" instead. As people heard Cole's vocal talent, they requested more vocal songs, and he obliged.

Popularity as a vocalist

In 1941 the trio recorded "That Ain't Right" for Decca, followed the next year by "All for You" for Excelsior. They also recorded "I'm Lost", a song written by Otis René, the owner of Excelsior.

I started out to become a jazz pianist; in the meantime I started singing and I sang the way I felt and that's just the way it came out.
— Nat King Cole, Voice of America interview, c.1956.

Cole appeared in the first Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts in 1944. He was credited on Mercury as "Shorty Nadine", a derivative of his wife's name, because he had an exclusive contract with Capitol since signing with the label the year before. He recorded with Illinois Jacquet and Lester Young.

King Cole Trio Time on NBC with Cole on piano, Oscar Moore on guitar, and Johnny Miller on double bass, 1947

In 1946 the trio broadcast King Cole Trio Time, a fifteen-minute radio program. This was the first radio program to be sponsored by a black musician. Between 1946 and 1948 the trio recorded radio transcriptions for Capitol Records Transcription Service. They also performed on the radio programs Swing Soiree, Old Gold, The Chesterfield Supper Club, Kraft Music Hall, and The Orson Welles Almanac.

Cole began recording and performing pop-oriented material in which he was often accompanied by a string orchestra. His stature as a popular star was cemented by hits such as "All for You" (1943), "The Christmas Song" (1947), "(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66", "(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons" (1946), "There! I've Said It Again" (1947), "Nature Boy" (1948), "Frosty The Snowman", "Mona Lisa" (No. 1 song of 1950), "Orange Colored Sky" (1950), "Too Young" (No. 1 song of 1951).

On June 7, 1953, Cole performed for the famed ninth Cavalcade of Jazz concert held at Wrigley Field in Chicago which was produced by Leon Hefflin, Sr. Also featured that day were Roy Brown and his Orchestra, Shorty Rogers, Earl Bostic, Don Tosti and His Mexican Jazzmen, and Louis Armstrong and his All Stars with Velma Middleton.

On November 5, 1956, The Nat 'King' Cole Show debuted on NBC. The variety program was one of the first hosted by an African American, The program started at a length of fifteen-minutes but was increased to a half-hour in July 1957. Rheingold Beer was a regional sponsor, but a national sponsor was never found. The show was in trouble financially despite efforts by NBC, Harry Belafonte, Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, Eartha Kitt, Frankie Laine, Peggy Lee, and Mel Tormé. Cole decided to end the program. The last episode aired on December 17, 1957. Commenting on the lack of sponsorship, Cole said shortly after its demise, "Madison Avenue is afraid of the dark."

Throughout the 1950s, Cole continued to record hits that sold millions throughout the world, such as "Smile", "Pretend", "A Blossom Fell", and "If I May". His pop hits were collaborations with Nelson Riddle, Gordon Jenkins, and Ralph Carmichael. Riddle arranged several of Cole's 1950s albums, including Nat King Cole Sings for Two in Love (1953), his first 10-inch LP. In 1955, "Darling, Je Vous Aime Beaucoup" reached number 7 on the Billboard chart. Love Is the Thing went to number one in April 1957 remained his only number one album.

In 1959 he received a Grammy Award for Best Performance By a "Top 40" Artist for "Midnight Flyer".

Capitol Records Building, known as "The House That Nat Built"

In 1958 Cole went to Havana, Cuba, to record Cole Español, an album sung entirely in Spanish. It was so popular in Latin America and the U.S. that it was followed by two more Spanish-language albums: A Mis Amigos (1959) and More Cole Español (1962).

After the change in musical tastes, Cole's ballads appealed little to young listeners, despite a successful attempt at rock and roll with "Send for Me", which peaked at number 6 on the pop chart. Like Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, and Tony Bennett, he found that the pop chart had been taken over by youth-oriented acts.

In 1960, Cole's longtime collaborator Nelson Riddle left Capitol to join Reprise Records, which was started by Frank Sinatra. Riddle and Cole recorded one final hit album, Wild Is Love, with lyrics by Ray Rasch and Dotty Wayne. Cole later retooled the concept album into an Off-Broadway show, I'm with You.

Nevertheless, Cole recorded some hit singles during the 1960s, including "Let There Be Love" with George Shearing in 1961, the country-flavored hit "Ramblin' Rose" in August 1962, "Dear Lonely Hearts", "That Sunday, That Summer" and "Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer" (his final top-ten hit, reaching number 6 on the Pop chart). He performed in many short films, sitcoms, and television shows and played W. C. Handy in the film St. Louis Blues (1958). He also appeared in The Nat King Cole Story, China Gate, and The Blue Gardenia (1953).

In January 1964, Cole made one of his final television appearances, on The Jack Benny Program. He was introduced as "the best friend a song ever had" and sang "When I Fall in Love". Cat Ballou (1965), his final film, was released several months after his death.

Earlier on, Cole's shift to traditional pop led some jazz critics and fans to accuse him of selling out, but he never abandoned his jazz roots; as late as 1956 he recorded an all-jazz album, After Midnight, and many of his albums after this are fundamentally jazz-based, being scored for big band without strings, although the arrangements focus primarily on the vocal rather than instrumental leads.

Cole had one of his last major hits in 1963, two years before his death, with "Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer", which reached number 6 on the Pop chart. "Unforgettable" was made famous again in 1991 by Cole's daughter Natalie when modern recording technology was used to reunite father and daughter in a duet. The duet version rose to the top of the pop charts, almost forty years after its original popularity.

Personal life

Around the time Cole launched his singing career, he entered into Freemasonry. He was raised in January 1944 in the Thomas Waller Lodge No. 49 in California. The lodge was named after fellow Prince Hall mason and jazz musician Fats Waller. He joined the Scottish Rite Freemasonry, becoming Master Mason. Cole was "an avid baseball fan", particularly of Hank Aaron. In 1968, Nelson Riddle related an incident from some years earlier and told of music studio engineers, searching for a source of noise, finding Cole listening to a game on a transistor radio.

Marriages and children

Nat and his second wife, Maria, 1951

Cole met his first wife, Nadine Robinson, while they were on tour for the all-black Broadway musical Shuffle Along. He was 18 when they married. She was the reason he moved to Los Angeles and formed the Nat King Cole trio. This marriage ended in divorce in 1948. On March 28, 1948 (Easter Sunday), six days after his divorce became final, Cole married the singer Maria Hawkins Ellington. The Coles were married in Harlem's Abyssinian Baptist Church by Adam Clayton Powell Jr. They had five children: Natalie (1950–2015), who had a successful career as a singer, died of congestive heart failure; an adopted daughter, Carole (1944–2009, the daughter of Maria's sister), who died of lung cancer at the age of 64; an adopted son, Nat Kelly Cole (1959–1995), who died of AIDS at the age of 36; and twin daughters, Casey and Timolin (born September 26, 1961), whose birth was announced in the "Milestones" column of Time magazine on October 6, 1961. Maria supported him during his final illness and stayed with him until his death. In an interview, she emphasized his musical legacy and the class he exhibited despite his imperfections.

Experiences with racism

Bust of Nat King Cole in the Hotel Nacional de Cuba

In August 1948, Cole purchased a house from Col. Harry Gantz, the former husband of the silent film actress Lois Weber, in the all-white Hancock Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. The Ku Klux Klan, which was active in Los Angeles in the 1950s, responded by placing a burning cross on his front lawn. Members of the property-owners association told Cole they did not want any "undesirables" moving into the neighborhood. Cole responded, "Neither do I. And if I see anybody undesirable coming in here, I'll be the first to complain."

In 1956 Cole was contracted to perform in Cuba. He wanted to stay at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba in Havana but was refused because it operated a color bar. Cole honored his contract, and the concert at the Tropicana Club was a huge success. During the following year, he returned to Cuba for another concert, singing many songs in Spanish.

In 1956 Cole was assaulted on stage during a concert in Birmingham, Alabama, with the Ted Heath Band while singing the song "Little Girl". Having circulated photographs of Cole with white female fans bearing incendiary boldface captions reading "Cole and His White Women" and "Cole and Your Daughter" three men belonging to the North Alabama Citizens Council assaulted Cole, apparently attempting to kidnap him. The three assailants ran down the aisles of the auditorium towards Cole. Local law enforcement quickly ended the invasion of the stage, but in the ensuing mêlée Cole was toppled from his piano bench and injured his back. He did not finish the concert. A fourth member of the group was later arrested. All were tried and convicted. Cole received a slight back injury during the scuffle. Six men, including 23-year-old Willie Richard Vinson, were formally charged with assault with intent to murder him, but later the charge against four of them was changed to conspiracy to commit a misdemeanour. The original plan to attack Cole included 150 men from Birmingham and nearby towns.

After being attacked in Birmingham, Cole said, "I can't understand it ... I have not taken part in any protests. Nor have I joined an organization fighting segregation. Why should they attack me?" Cole said he wanted to forget the incident and continued to play for segregated audiences in the south. He said he could not change the situation in a day. He contributed money to the Montgomery Bus Boycott and had sued northern hotels that had hired him but refused to serve him. Thurgood Marshall, the chief legal counsel of the NAACP, called him an Uncle Tom and said he should perform with a banjo. Roy Wilkins, executive secretary of the NAACP, wrote him a telegram that said, "You have not been a crusader or engaged in an effort to change the customs or laws of the South. That responsibility, newspapers quote you as saying, you leave to the other guys. That attack upon you clearly indicates that organized bigotry makes no distinction between those who do not actively challenge racial discrimination and those who do. This is a fight which none of us can escape. We invite you to join us in a crusade against racism."

The Chicago Defender said Cole's performances for all-white audiences were an insult to his race. The New York Amsterdam News said that "thousands of Harlem blacks who have worshiped at the shrine of singer Nat King Cole turned their backs on him this week as the noted crooner turned his back on the NAACP and said that he will continue to play to Jim Crow audiences." To play "Uncle Nat's" discs, wrote a commentator in The American Negro, "would be supporting his 'traitor' ideas and narrow way of thinking". Deeply hurt by the criticism in the black press, Cole was chastened. Emphasizing his opposition to racial segregation "in any form", he agreed to join other entertainers in boycotting segregated venues. He paid $500 to become a lifetime member of the Detroit branch of the NAACP. Until his death in 1965, Cole was an active and visible participant in the civil rights movement, playing an important role in planning the March on Washington in 1963.

Politics

Cole sang at the 1956 Republican National Convention in the Cow Palace, Daly City, California, to show support for President Dwight D. Eisenhower. He sang "That's All There Is to That" and was "greeted with applause." He was also present at the Democratic National Convention in 1960 to support Senator John F. Kennedy. He was among the dozens of entertainers recruited by Frank Sinatra to perform at the Kennedy Inaugural gala in 1961. Cole consulted with President Kennedy and his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, on civil rights.

Illness and death

In September 1964, Cole began to lose weight and he experienced back pain. Cole collapsed with pain after performing at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. In December, he was working in San Francisco when he was finally persuaded by friends to seek medical help. A malignant tumor in an advanced state of growth on his left lung was observed on a chest X-ray. Cole, who had been a heavy cigarette smoker, had lung cancer and was expected to have only months to live. Against his doctors' wishes, Cole carried on his work and made his final recordings December 1–3 in San Francisco, with an orchestra conducted by Ralph Carmichael. The music was released on the album L-O-V-E shortly before his death. His daughter noted later that he did this to assure the welfare of his family.

Cole entered St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica on December 7, and cobalt therapy was started on December 10. Frank Sinatra performed in Cole's place at the grand opening of the new Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Los Angeles Music Center on December 12. Cole's condition gradually worsened, but he was released from the hospital over the New Year's period. At home Cole was able to see the hundreds of thousands of cards and letters that had been sent after news of his illness was made public. Cole returned to the hospital in early January. He also sent $5,000 (US$41,218 in 2019 dollars) to chorus girl Gunilla Hutton, with whom he had been romantically involved since early 1964. Hutton later telephoned Maria and implored her to divorce him. Maria confronted her husband, and Cole finally broke off the relationship with Hutton. Cole's illness reconciled him with his wife, and he vowed that if he recovered he would go on television to urge people to stop smoking. On January 25, Cole's entire left lung was surgically removed. His father died of heart problems on February 1. Throughout Cole's illness his publicists promoted the idea that he would soon be well and working, despite the private knowledge of his terminal condition. Billboard magazine reported that "Nat King Cole has successfully come through a serious operation and... the future looks bright for 'the master' to resume his career again." On Valentine's Day, Cole and his wife briefly left St. John's to drive by the sea. He died at the hospital early in the morning of February 15, 1965, aged 45.

Cole's vault at Forest Lawn Memorial Park

Cole's funeral was held on February 18 at St. James Episcopal Church on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles; 400 people were present, and thousands gathered outside the church. Hundreds of members of the public had filed past the coffin the day before. Honorary pallbearers included Robert F. Kennedy, Count Basie, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Johnny Mathis, George Burns, Danny Thomas, Jimmy Durante, Alan Livingston, Frankie Laine, Steve Allen, and Pat Brown (the governor of California). The eulogy was delivered by Jack Benny, who said that "Nat Cole was a man who gave so much and still had so much to give. He gave it in song, in friendship to his fellow man, devotion to his family. He was a star, a tremendous success as an entertainer, an institution. But he was an even greater success as a man, as a husband, as a father, as a friend." Cole's remains were interred in Freedom Mausoleum at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, in Glendale, California.

Posthumous releases

Cole's last album, L-O-V-E, was recorded in early December 1964—just a few days before he entered the hospital for cancer treatment—and was released just before he died. It peaked at number 4 on the Billboard Albums chart in the spring of 1965. A Best Of album was certified a gold record in 1968. His 1957 recording of "When I Fall in Love" reached number 4 in the UK charts in 1987.

In 1983, an archivist for EMI Electrola Records, a subsidiary of EMI Records (Capitol's parent company) in Germany, discovered some unreleased recordings by Cole, including one in Japanese and another in Spanish ("Tu Eres Tan Amable"). Capitol released them later that year as the LP Unreleased.

In 1991, Mosaic Records released The Complete Capitol Records Recordings of the Nat King Cole Trio, a compilation of 349 songs available as an 18-CD or a 27-LP set. In 2008 it was re-released in digital-download format through services like iTunes and Amazon Music.

Also in 1991, Natalie Cole recorded a new vocal track that was mixed with her father's 1961 stereo re-recording of his 1951 hit "Unforgettable" for a tribute album of the same title. The song and album won seven Grammy awards in 1992 for Best Album and Best Song.

Awards and honors

Cole was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame and the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame. He was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1990. He was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1997 and the Hit Parade Hall of Fame in 2007. A United States postage stamp with Cole's likeness was issued in 1994. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000 and the Latin Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2013.

Cole's success at Capitol Records, for which he recorded more than 150 singles that reached the Billboard Pop, R&B, and Country charts, has yet to be matched by any Capitol artist. His records sold 50 million copies during his career. His recording of "The Christmas Song" still receives airplay every holiday season, even hitting the Billboard Top 40 in December 2017.

Discography

  • The King Cole Trio (1944)
  • The King Cole Trio, Volume 2 (1946)
  • The King Cole Trio, Volume 3 (1947)
  • The King Cole Trio, Volume 4 (1949)
  • Nat King Cole at the Piano (1950)
  • Harvest of Hits (1950)
  • King Cole for Kids (1951)
  • Penthouse Serenade (1952)
  • Top Pops (1952)
  • Two In Love (1953)
  • Unforgettable (1954)
  • Penthouse Serenade (1955)
  • Nat King Cole Sings for Two in Love (1955)
  • The Piano Style of Nat King Cole (1955)
  • After Midnight (1957)
  • Just One of Those Things (1957)
  • Love Is the Thing (1957)
  • Cole Español (1958)
  • St. Louis Blues (1958)
  • The Very Thought of You (1958)
  • To Whom It May Concern (1958)
  • Welcome to the Club (1958)
  • A Mis Amigos (1959)
  • Tell Me All About Yourself (1960)
  • Every Time I Feel the Spirit (1960)
  • Wild Is Love (1960)
  • The Magic of Christmas (1960)
  • The Nat King Cole Story (1961)
  • The Touch of Your Lips (1961)
  • Nat King Cole Sings/George Shearing Plays (1962)
  • Ramblin' Rose (1962)
  • Dear Lonely Hearts (1962)
  • More Cole Español (1962)
  • Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer (1963)
  • Where Did Everyone Go? (1963)
  • Nat King Cole Sings My Fair Lady (1964)
  • Let's Face the Music! (1964, recorded 1961)
  • I Don't Want to Be Hurt Anymore (1964)
  • L-O-V-E (1965)
  • Nat King Cole Sings His Songs From 'Cat Ballou' and Other Motion Pictures (1965)
  • Live at the Sands (1966, recorded 1960)

His hit singles include "Straighten Up and Fly Right" 1944 #8, "The Christmas Song" 1946/1962/2018 #?/#65/#11, "Nature Boy" 1948 #1, "Mona Lisa 1950 #1, "Frosty, The Snowman" 1950 #9, "Too Young" 1951 #1, "Unforgettable" 1951 #12, "Somewhere Along the Way" 1952 #8, "Answer Me, My Love" 1954 #6, "A Blossom Fell" 1955 #2, "If I May" 1955 #8, "Send for Me" 1957 #6, "Looking Back" 1958 #5, "Ramblin' Rose" 1962 #2, "Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer" 1963 #6, "Unforgettable" 1991 (with daughter Natalie)

Partial television credits

Year Title Role Notes
1950 The Ed Sullivan Show Himself 14 episodes
1951–1952 Texaco Star Theatre Himself 3 episodes
1952–1955 The Jackie Gleason Show Himself 2 episodes
1953 The Red Skelton Show Himself Episode #2.20
1953–1961 What's My Line? "Mystery guest" 2 episodes
1954–1955 The Colgate Comedy Hour Himself 4 episodes
1955 Ford Star Jubilee Himself 2 episodes
1956–1957 The Nat King Cole Show Host 42 episodes
1957–1960 The Dinah Shore Chevy Show Himself 2 episodes
1958 The Patti Page Show Himself Episode #1.5
1959 The Perry Como Show Himself Episode: January 17, 1959
1959 The George Gobel Show Himself Episode #5.10
1960 The Steve Allen Show Himself Episode #5.21
1960 This Is Your Life Himself Episode: "Nat King Cole"
1961–1964 The Garry Moore Show Himself 4 episodes
1962–1964 The Jack Paar Program Himself 4 episodes
1963 An Evening with Nat King Cole Himself BBC Television special
1963 The Danny Kaye Show Himself Episode #1.14
1964 The Jack Benny Program Nat Episode: "Nat King Cole, Guest"
The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article on 13 Mar 2020. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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Reference sources
References
https://indianapublicmedia.org/afterglow/nat-king-coles-remarkable-1958.php
http://www.nat-king-cole.org/biography.html
https://web.archive.org/web/20070213054338/http://www.nat-king-cole.org/biography.html
https://www.npr.org/programs/jazzprofiles/archive/cole_f.html
https://www.thestar.com/entertainment/music/2015/06/12/how-i-got-the-jazz-gene-seven-artists-reveal-their-roots.html
https://www.newspapers.com/newspage/38486512/
https://books.google.com/books?id=TkGMnE6g1qMC&pg=PA12
http://www.latimes.com/local/obituaries/archives/la-me-nat-king-cole-19650216-story.html
//www.worldcat.org/issn/0458-3035
https://books.google.com/books?id=0KFnjqV3F0AC&pg=RA1-PA2002
https://books.google.com/books?id=-k6G_T83wRIC&pg=PA32
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