NAT KING COLE
First African American to Host a Network Television Network
Husband, Father, Mentor, Pioneer, Visionary
The man who built Columbia Records Tower
Entrepreneur, Singer, Song Writer, Producer, Pianist, Jazz Artist, Civil Rights Activist, Television Personality.
Nat King Cole Began his career as a jazz pianist. He received his renowned success through his love ballads using the same Jazz feel behind his vocals. He was known for his rich smooth baritone voice, which he used to perform in big band and jazz genres. The Nat King Cole Show, and has maintained worldwide popularity since his death from lung cancer in February 1965.
Nathaniel Adams Coles was born in Montgomery, Alabama, on March 17, 1919. His parents were Edward James Coles, a minister at Beulah Baptist church, and Perlina Adams Coles, who sang in the choir. Nathaniel had four siblings, all of whom had musical talent. Hoping to seek opportunities and escape the extreme prejudice in the Deep South, Edward Coles relocated his family to Chicago, Illinois, in 1923 as part of the Great Migration of southern blacks to the Midwest and East.
Chicago was a jazz natured musical state and when they moved there Nathaniel became intrigued by the sounds he would hear. In clubs in his vicinity he would hear such artist as Earl Himes, Art Tatum, Teddy Wilson and Louis Armstrong which was one of his neighbors.
He not a high school graduate. His mother spent her spare time teaching him how to play the piano during the great depression in America. Later at the age of 17 he played and wrote songs for Eddie Cole’s Solid Swingsters . This led to him signing and recording a single with Decca Records. In 1937 he wanted to be distinctive from his brother and removed the S from his last name and shortened his first name. He met and married Nadine Robinson which his parents did not give their blessings to. They relocated and settled in Los Angeles where he started to intermingle with other artist and met Oscar Moore which was a guitarist and Wesley Prince who was a bassist and they form a group together called the Nat Cole Trio.
At every event they would play without drums to showcase Nathaniel improvisational style on the piano which everyone loved and rendered him the nickname King. The group booked shows continuously in the area and in 1939 was asked to appear with legendary Billie Holiday in New York. After the success in New York they performed in Los Angeles New York City, Chicago, and Washington D.C. In the 1940s, the trio appeared on the Old Gold, Chesterfield Supper Club and Kraft Music Hall radio shows. The King Cole Trio performed twice on CBS Radio’s variety show The Orson Welles Almanac.
They changed up their style and added vocals with Nathaniel singing and playing the piano at the same time. In June 1942 they became the house band at the 331 Club in Los Angeles. Their revenue increased and had more opportunities to play with the greats at that time such as Saxophonist Lester Young. Their recordings were not as lucrative as playing with the other major artist. 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.
During World War II, Wesley Prince left the group and Cole replaced him with Johnny Miller. T Nathaniel ended up meeting Carlos Gastel and a contract with Capitol Records was signed. Johnny Miller would later be replaced by Charlie Harris in the 1950s. The group had previously recorded for Excelsior Records, owned by Otis René and had a hit with the song “I’m Lost”, which René wrote, produced and distributed. Revenues from Nathaniel Cole’s record sales fueled much of Capitol Records’ success during this period. The revenue is believed to have played a significant role in financing the distinctive Capitol Records building near Hollywood and Vine in Los Angeles Completed in 1956, it was the world’s first circular office building and became known as “The House that Nat Built”.
Nathaniel was considered a leading jazz pianist, appearing in the first Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts (credited on the Mercury Record label as “Shorty Nadine”—derived from his wife’s name—as he was under exclusive contract to Capitol Records at the time).His revolutionary lineup of piano, guitar, and bass in the time of the big bands became a popular setup for a jazz trio. It was emulated by many musicians, among them Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson, Ahmad Jamal, and blues pianists Charles Brown and Ray Charles He also performed as a pianist on sessions with Lester Young, Red Callender, and Lionel Hampton. For contract reasons, Cole was credited as “Aye Guy” on the album The Lester Young Buddy Rich Trio.
Nathaniel recorded “Straighten Up and Fly Right” which was his big opportunity at the time. This song led to a strong crossover appeal to the pop music. He was now a popular artist instead of a Jazz artist to many… This deal created a lot of opportunities for him including a budding movie career in Hollywood.
His record company would promote him as a ballad artist and then later incorporate him back into the category of Blues. In 1946 he went solo he had two songs at the top of the charts which was Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire and I Love You for Sentimental Reasons at number one. He again gained momentum with the song Route 66 and Nature Boy in 1948. This followed with an amount of single releases as Lush Life 1949, Mona Lisa 1950, and Too Young in 1951 all became hits. In 1952 Nathaniel Unforgettable which is one of his best hit to date. In 1955 his group went their separate ways. In 1946 Nathaniel met and fell in love with singer Maria Ellington who was a singer in the Duke Ellington Band which led to his divorce and a second marriage in 1948. He and Maria were married in Harlem’s Abyssinian Church by Adam Clayton Powell Jr. settled in Hancock Park Neighborhood in Los Angeles, however, adopting Maria’s niece Carol after the death of her parents ,They had five children: Natalie (born 1950), who herself would go on to have a successful career as a singer; adopted daughter Carole (1944–2009, the daughter of Maria’s sister), who died of lung cancer at 64; adopted son Nat Kelly Cole (1959–1995), who died of AIDS at 36; and twin daughters Casey and Timolin (born 1961). During their time there The Ku Klux Klan, still active in Los Angeles well into 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 in. Cole retorted, “Neither do I. And if I see anybody undesirable coming in here, I’ll be the first to complain.”
He had major success throughout the1950’s and grew more popularity. he endured national controversy resulting from a visit to his native state of Alabama where he performed in the first racially mixed arena in Birmingham, with a mixture of both races as his band mates. He was assaulted on stage during a concert, with the Ted Heath Band singing the song “Little Girl”, three members of the North Alabama Citizens Council. The three male attackers ran down the aisles of the auditorium towards Nathaniel Cole and his band. Although local law enforcement quickly ended the invasion of the stage, the ensuing melee toppled Nathaniel from his piano bench and injured his back. He did not finish the concert and never again performed in the South. A fourth member of the group who had participated in the plot was later arrested in connection with the act. All were later tried and convicted for their roles in the crime.
Nathaniel Cole was a civil rights activist but not one to neither condone nor promote violence. He continued to play in segregated settings in spite of criticism from the black community. He had a fan base of all colors and did not want to give them what the mass media or the community wanted. He wanted to show there is other ways of fighting and music brings people together.
In 1953 he was diagnosed with stomach ulcers and was operated on.
Nathaniel Cole sang at the 1956 Republican National Convention in the Cow Palace, San Francisco, California, on August 23, 1956. There, his “singing of ‘That’s All There Is To That’ was greeted with applause.”
In 1956, he was contracted to perform in Cuba and wanted to stay at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba in Havana, but was not allowed to because it operated a color bar. Cole honored his contract, and the concert at the Tropicana was a huge success. The following year, he returned to Cuba for another concert, singing many songs in Spanish. There is now a tribute to him in the form of a bust and a jukebox in the Hotel Nacion.
In 1956 Television history of Nat King Cole variety show became the First African American to host on a national broadcasting company network (NBC) on November 5; the show lasted from 1956 to 1957. The show created controversy at the time. Beginning as a 15-minute pops show on Monday night, the program was expanded to a half hour in July 1957. Despite the efforts of NBC, as well as many of his industry colleagues—many of whom, such as Ella Fitzgerald, Harry Belafonte, Frankie Laine, Mel Tormé, Peggy Lee, Eartha Kitt, and backing vocal group The Cheerleaders worked for industry scale (or even for no pay) in order to help the show save money—The Nat King Cole Show was ultimately done in by lack of a national sponsorship. Companies such as Rheingold Beer assumed regional sponsorship of the show, but a national sponsor never appeared.
The last episode of The Nat King Cole Show aired December 17, 1957. Nathaniel Cole had survived for over a year, and it was he, not NBC, who ultimately decided to pull the plug on the show. Commenting on the lack of sponsorship his show received,
Throughout the 1950s, Nathaniel continued to release successive hits, selling in millions throughout the world, including “Smile”, “Pretend”, “A Blossom Fell”, and “If I May”. Nelson Riddle arranged several of Nathaniel Cole’s 1950s albums, including his first 10-inch long-play album, his 1953 Nat King Cole Sings For Two In Love. In 1955, his single “Darling Je Vou Aime Beaucoup” reached #7 on the Billboard charts then Love Is the Thing reached t #1 on the album charts in April 1957.
In 1958, Cole went to Havana, Cuba, to record Cole Español, an album sung entirely in Spanish. The album was so popular in Latin America, as well as in the USA, that two others of the same variety followed: A Mis Amigos (sung in Spanish and Portuguese) in 1959 and More Cole Espanola in 1962.
In 1958 portrayed jazz legend W.C. Handy in St.Louis Blues, a film based on his life.
Nathaniel Cole was present at the Democratic National Convention in 1960 to throw his support behind Senator John F. Kennedy. Cole was also among the dozens of entertainers recruited by Frank Sinatra to perform at the Kennedy Inaugural gala in 1961. Cole frequently consulted with President Kennedy (and later President Lyndon B. Johnson on civil rights.
In January 1964, Nathaniel 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.” It was one of his last performances. Cat Ballou (1965), his final film, was released several months after his death.
Cole was scheduled to appear as the first popular music artist to perform at the grand opening of the new Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Los Angeles Music Center in December, 1964. However, he was hospitalized with lung cancer was unable to appear.
He underwent cobalt and radiation therapy and was initially given a positive prognosis. On January 25, he underwent surgery to remove his left lung. Despite medical treatments, he died on February 15, 1965, at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica, California.
Nathaniel Adams Cole’s funeral was held on February 18 at St. James Episcopal Church on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. His remains were interred inside Freedom Mausoleum at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale.
Following his death with posthumous release Nathaniel Adams Cole was inducted into both the Alabama Music Hall of Fame and the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame. In 1990, he was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 1997 was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame. In 2007, he was inducted into the Hit Parade Hall of Fame.
An official United States postage stamp featuring Cole’s likeness was issued in 1994.
In 2000, Cole was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of the major influences on early rock and roll in 2013; he was inducted into the Latin Songwriters Hall of Fame for his contribution to the Latin music genre.