- 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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The following spring, Cole won over music fans with the light-hearted tune "Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer." He made his last appearances on the pop charts in his lifetime in 1964. Modest successes compared to his earlier hits, Cole delivered two ballads—"I Don't Want to Hurt Anymore" and "I Don't Want to See Tomorrow"—in his signature smooth style.
Cole made television history in 1956, when he became the first African-American performer to host a variety TV series. The Nat King Cole Show featured many of the leading performers of the day, including Count Basie, Peggy Lee, Sammy Davis Jr. and Tony Bennett. Unfortunately, the series didn't last long, going off the air in December 1957. Cole blamed the show's demise on the lack of a national sponsor. The sponsorship problem has been seen as a reflection of the racial issues of the times with no company seemingly wanting to back a program that featured African-American entertainers.
After his show went off the air, Cole continued to be a presence on television. He appeared on such popular programs as The Ed Sullivan Show and The Garry Moore Show.
On the big screen, Cole had first started out in small roles in the 1940s, largely playing some version of himself. He landed some sizable parts in the late 1950s, appearing in the Errol Flynn drama Istanbul (1957). That same year, Cole appeared in the war drama China Gate with Gene Barry and Angie Dickinson. His only major starring role came in 1958, in the drama St. Louis Blues, also starring Eartha Kitt and Cab Calloway. Cole played the role of blues great W.C. Handy in the film. His final film appearance came in 1965: He performed alongside Jane Fonda and Lee Marvin in the light-hearted Western Cat Ballou.
In 1964, Cole discovered that he had lung cancer. He succumbed to the disease just months later, on February 15, 1965, at the age of 45, in Santa Monica, California. A "who's who" of the entertainment world, including the likes of Rosemary Clooney, Frank Sinatra and Jack Benny, attended the legendary musician's funeral, held a few days later in Los Angeles. Released around this time, L-O-V-E proved to be Cole's final recording. The title track of the album remains hugely popular to this day, and has been featured on a number of film soundtracks.
Since his death, Cole's music has endured. His rendition of "The Christmas Song" has become a holiday classic and many of his other signature songs are frequently selected for film and television soundtracks. His daughter Natalie has also carried on the family profession, becoming a successful singer in her own right. In 1991, she helped her father achieve a posthumous hit. Natalie Cole recorded his hit "Unforgettable" and put their vocals together as a duet.
Cole married for the first time when he was only 17. He and first wife Nadine Robinson divorced in 1948. Only a short time later, Cole married singer Maria Hawkins Ellington, with whom he raised five children—four biological children and a daughter adopted from a family member.
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