Nat King Cole: Jazz Pianist / Composer / Singer / Movie Star
as he was known was born Nathaniel Adams Cole on March 17, 1919 in Montgomery, Alabama where he would live until age 4 when his family moved to Chicago. From an early age Cole would find refuge in music, as his mother was a church organist, he would begin performing and taking music lessons before age 12. As a high schooler Cole was known to sneak out and visit out side of popular clubs where he would be able to listen to such greats as Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines. Age 15 saw Cole dropping out of high school to pursue his musical career, joining his brother Eddie Cole in his newly formed sextet Eddie Cole's Swingsters. After spending a year on tour with a musical called Shuffle Along. He would settle down with former show cast member now wife Nadine Robinson in Los Angeles.
After the move Cole left his brothers group to form his own, dubbed the King Cole Swingsters (later changed to the King Cole Trio).
The Vocal Stylings of Nat King Cole
Beginning his career as a musician Cole showed little interest in singing however after being bombarded with requests to sing, he would breakout the song Sweet Lorraine (a 1935 song sung by Teddy Wilson). This performance was a hit and would a later recording of the song would be hit first hit.
His personal Struggle
[Writer's note: This following set of paragraphs is taken directly from the Nat King Cole entry on Wikipedia, I understand that Cole was a bridge builder of his generation that he opened so many doors for those who would follow. But I am not confident in paraphrasing or writing about his struggles against the racism and inequalities of the 1940-60s. So I have chosen to reprint that section from his wiki page.]
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 misdemeanor. 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. At Nat “King” Cole’s 1965 funeral, comedian Jack Benny paid tribute to Nat the man, not Nat the black man. And that’s as it should be. He described this remarkable performer as:
…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.
-End of the wiki section-
The Legacy he built
Think back to the Christmas songs you hear, every year. How many of those are Nat King Cole? Id wager to say its quite a few. His rich soulful voice graced all of the great classics from 'O Tannenbaum', 'The Christmas Song', and duets with the equally talented Ella Fitzgerald on 'The Magic of Christmas'.
In fact it wasn’t mentioned at the time, but Cole’s version of “The Christmas Song” was the first holiday standard ever introduced by a black American. It opened the door for Lou Rawls, Ray Charles and many others to record their own takes on yuletide classics. Mel Torme considered releasing the song himself, but he respected Cole and knew that he could give the song the voice it deserved. However Capitol Records (Who Cole was signed too) didn't agree, but at Cole's request they released the track and watch it reach legendary heights.
Somewhat, surprisingly, Cole only released one full length Christmas album. In 1960 he released The Magic of Christmas. He had released many singles in the years leading up including what is arguably his most popular song 'The Christmas Song, However, the album was released omitting the famous track. Until 1963 when the album would be released featuring it as the title track. The album would go on to sell 6 million copies and become the best selling Christmas album of the decade.
The Christmas Song:
1946: the song reach #3 on the US Pop and US R&B charts.
1947: 23rd on US Pop
Frosty the Snowman
1951: 9th on US Pop
In 1956, Cole made history once again by joining with NBC to start The Nat King Cole Show, the first TV Variety show hosted by an African American, NBC gave the show the highly sought after Monday night 7:30 time slot, showing how highly the station favored the potential of the show.
NBC ate all of the initial production costs, hoping that a potential sponsor would come later. Even going so far as to book incredible guests such as Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Count Basie, Tony Bennett, Sammy Davis Jr., Harry Belafonte, Johnny Mercer, Mel Torme, Mahalia Jackson, Robert Mitchum, Pearl Bailey, and Julius LaRosa, among others. Many of these appeared at the union minimum rate because they too loved the show and the host. unfortunately it became a victim of it's time and was cancelled a year later after failing to find a corporate sponsor.
After spending years, working to forge her own path a an artist and not as 'Nat King coles daughter' earning her 3 Grammy awards and selling 20 million albums. On September 21, 1999. Natalie Cole released her own album titled The Magic Of Christmas, where she opened with singing a dubbed version of The Christmas Song with her late father and performed many other songs made famous by her father.
"I like the idea of the standards, since the first 14 or 15 years of my life I was exposed to this music. Since it's getting such a great response, I'd like to explore it further," Cole said
Unfortunately We lost Nat King Cole on February 15th 1965, this was brought on by a lengthy fight with lung cancer. His death would come just 8 days after his father's death. His daught would go on to have her own successful career until her death at age 65 in 2015 from a heart failure.
Its hard to imagine Christmas with out the legacy of Nat King Cole, but also its hard to imagine a lot of the current TV and music scene with out the influence that he had and the doors he opened. We are truly honored to call Cole a role model and an influence behind us starting this blog