Nat King Cole

Nat “King” Cole (17 March 1919 – 15 February 1965) was an American jazz musician and singer. He was a pianist and formed a jazz group in 1938, which played Los Angeles nightclubs. It was one of the first jazz groups to include guitar and piano. He had been playing music since he could remember as a child, and had worked in bands since he turned sixteen. He was born in Chicago, and was exposed to the rich jazz scene. Earl “Fatha” Hines was a major influence on him. He became more well-known as a singer and crooner, and his music became more orchestrated. Straighten Up and Fly Right was his first major hit in 1944. It was a song that was based on a black folk story that his father used as a subject for a sermon. Although the song was not a rocker, its success showed that folk-based material had a market. It is considered to be the precursor to the first rock and rolling records. Bo Diddley, who also performed similar folk-music transformations, cited Cole as an inspiration. Cole started recording pop-oriented music for mainstream audiences in the late 1940s. He was often accompanied by a string band. The Christmas Song (1946), Nature Boy (48), Mona Lisa (50) and Unforgettable (1951) were some of his most popular hits. Although some jazz fans and critics accused Cole of moving to pop music, Cole never completely abandoned his musical roots. In 1956, he released an all-jazz album called After Midnight. The Complete Nat King Cole Trio Recordings, released by Mosaic Records on Capitol in 1991, contained 349 songs and was available on 27 LPs (or 18 CDs). In the 1950s, Cole had hit after hit with Smile, Pretend and A blossom Fell. Many of his pop hits were created in collaboration with Nelson Riddle, the famed arranger/conductor. Cole’s first ten-inch long play album, Sings for Two in love, was released in 1953 by Riddle. There were many more albums to follow, including Love Is The Thing by Gordon Jenkins, which reached number 1 on the album charts in April 1957. Nat recorded Cole Espanol in 1958 after a trip to Havana in Cuba. It was a huge success in Latin America, as well as the U.S. It was so well-received that there were two more albums: A Mis Amigos in 1959 and More Cole Espanol 1962. In the 1950s musical tastes changed and Cole’s ballad singing was no longer popular with younger listeners. Nat discovered that pop singles charts had almost been taken over entirely by youth-oriented acts, just like his contemporaries Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, and Dean Martin. Nelson Riddle was Nat’s long-time collaborator. He left Capitol Records in 1960 to join Frank Sinatra’s Reprise Records label. They parted with Wild Is Love, their final hit album. It was based on Ray Rasch’s lyrics and Dotty Wright’s music. Later, Nat would retool the concept album to make an off-Broadway production titled I’m with You. Nat found another success in the American singles charts as the 1960s progressed. He started with the country/pop hit Ramblin’ Rose, August 1962. The singles Dear Lonely Hearts, That Sunday, That Summer, and Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer followed. L.O.V.E was Nat’s last album. It was recorded in late 1964. It was released shortly before his death, and reached number 4 on the Billboard Albums charts in spring 1965. 1968 saw the first gold-certified “Best Of” album. In 1987, When I Fall in Love by Cole was a top-charting hit in the U.K. Cole was the first African American to own a radio station. In the late 1950s, Cole had the opportunity to repeat the success with the first national television program starring an African American. Both programs were cancelled because sponsors refused to sponsor a black artist. Cole was a fierce opponent of racism and refused to perform at segregated venues throughout his life. He was attacked by White Citizens’ Council members in Birmingham, Alabama, 1956. They allegedly tried to kidnap Cole. Cole performed the show despite his injuries and vowed to never perform again in the South. Cole addressed the Republican National Convention at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, California on 23 August 1956. Cole was also present at 1960’s Democratic National Convention to support President John F. Kennedy. Frank Sinatra also recruited Cole to perform at the Kennedy Inaugural gala. Nat King Cole regularly consulted President Kennedy (and later President Johnson), on the subject of civil rights. Critics criticized him for not being open to controversy on the civil rights issue. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marsh was one of the most prominent, upset that Cole did not take more action following the 1956 on-stage attack. Cole bought a house in Los Angeles’ Hancock Park neighborhood, California in 1948. Cole responded that the property owners association didn’t want any unwanted people moving in. Cole responded, “I don’t want any undesirables coming in here. Maria Ellington was his second wife. He was married to Adam Clayton Powell Jr. in Harlem’s Abyssinian Church. They had five children, including twins. Adopted were daughter Carol Cole and her son Kelly Cole. Kelly Cole passed away in 1995. Nat Cole’s daughter Natalie Cole and his younger brother Freddie Cole are both singers. In 1991, Natalie Cole and her father had an unexpected hit. The younger Cole sung Unforgettable, a 1961 recording her father had made. She also mixed her voice with the 1961 recording. This created an electronic duet. The song and the album were both nominated for Grammys the next year. Cole appeared in many short films and was also cast as W. C. Handy, in the film Saint Louis Blues. He was also featured in The Nat King Cole Story and China Gate. Nat King Cole was a prolific smoker who died from lung cancer at St. John’s Hospital Santa Monica, California on February 15, 1965. His funeral took place at St. Victor’s Catholic Church, West Hollywood. He was buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California. His final film, Cat Ballou was released a few months later. Text contributed by users is available under Creative Commons By–SA License. It may also be available under GNU FDL.

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