- NAME: Nat King Cole
- OCCUPATION: Film Actor, Television Actor, Pianist, Singer, Television Personality
- BIRTH DATE: March 17, 1919
- DEATH DATE: February 15, 1965
- Did You Know?: In 1956, Nat King Cole became the first African-American performer to host a variety television series.
- EDUCATION: DuSable High School
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Montgomery, Alabama
- PLACE OF DEATH: Santa Monica, California
- Originally: Nathaniel Adams Coles
- AKA: Nat Cole
- AKA: Nathaniel Coles
- AKA: Nat King Cole
Best Known For
Nat King Cole became the first African-American performer to host a variety TV series in 1956. He's best known for his soft baritone voice and for singles like "The Christmas Song," "Mona Lisa" and "Nature Boy."
Born on March 17, 1919, in Montgomery, Alabama, Nat King Cole was an American musician who first came to prominence as a jazz pianist. In 1956, Cole became the first African-American performer to host a variety television series.
Watch a short video about Nat King Cole and how he came from the poor streets of Montgomery, Alabama to become one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time.
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Born on March 17, 1919, in Montgomery, Alabama, Nat King Cole was an American musician who first came to prominence as a jazz pianist. He owes most of his popular musical fame to his soft baritone voice, which he used to perform in big band and jazz genres. In 1956, Cole became the first African-American performer to host a variety television series, and for many white families,
"I'm not playing for other musicians. We're trying to reach the guy who works all day and wants to spend a buck at night."
he was the first black man welcomed into their living rooms each night. He has maintained worldwide popularity since his death in 1965.
Known for his smooth and well-articulated vocal style, Nat King Cole actually started out as a piano man. He first learned to play around the age of 4 with help from his mother, a church choir director. The son of a Baptist pastor, Cole may have started out playing religious music.
In his early teens, Cole had formal classical piano training. He eventually abandoned classical for his other musical passion—jazz. Earl Hines, a leader of modern jazz, was one of Cole's biggest inspirations. At 15, he dropped out of school to become a jazz pianist full time. Cole joined forces with his brother Eddie for a time, which led to his first professional recordings in 1936. He later joined a national tour for the musical revue Shuffle Along, performing as a pianist.
The following year, Cole started to put together what would become the King Cole Trio, the name being a play on the children's nursery rhyme. They toured extensively and finally landed on the charts in 1943 with "That Ain't Right," penned by Cole. "Straighten Up and Fly Right," inspired by one of his father's sermons, became another hit for the group in 1944. The trio continued its rise to the top with such pop hits as the holiday classic "The Christmas Song" and the ballad "(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons."
By the 1950s, Nat King Cole emerged as a popular solo performer. He scored numerous hits, with such songs as "Nature Boy," "Mona Lisa," "Too Young, " and "Unforgettable." In the studio, Cole got to work with some of the country's top talent, including Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, and famous arrangers such as Nelson Riddle. He also met and befriended other stars of the era, including popular crooner Frank Sinatra.
As an African American performer, Cole struggled to find his place in the civil rights movement. He had encountered racism firsthand, especially while touring in the South. In 1956, Cole had been attacked by white supremacists during a mixed race performance in Alabama. He was rebuked by other African Americans, however, for his less-than-supportive comments about racial integration made after the show. Cole basically took the stance that he was an entertainer, not an activist.
Cole's presence on the record charts dwindled in the late 1950s. But this decline did not last long. His career returned to top form in the early 1960s. The 1962 country-influenced hit "Rambin' Rose" reached the number two spot on the Billboard pop charts.
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