1919-1965. Crowned long before Elvis. The King Cole Trio was a popular pre-bop jazz group (with the definitive "Route 66"). He had huge pop success as a crooner of the 50s/60s: "Ramblin' Rose", "Nature Boy", "The Christmas Song"... "Send For Me" was great rock and roll, but he didn't pursue that road. His 50s NBC variety show was controversial, not for its innocuous fare, but because he was black. Father of Natalie Cole, who duetted on "Unforgettable", via the alchemy of digitalia.

Cole's jazz trio was rare for its day. Most bands then were the big bands, which people love so much. But, when Nat came to L.A. he was too poor to hire more than two other musicians. He is remembered as a singer, but his distinctive jazz compositions, such as Straighten Up And Fly Right are perhaps of a higher artistic merit. His NBC variety show never had a sponser, even though it was the highest rated show in its timeslot. Racism?

Nat King Cole is one of the world’s greatest jazz legends. The records he made in the 1940s have been of major influence on jazz music. His impact on generations of pianists was not just far-reaching: it was fundamental.

Nat is often regarded as the man who made it possible for black musicians to break through in the U.S. music scene. He did not refuse to perform before segregated audiences, for he believed that goodwill and exhibition of his talent were more effective than formal protests in fighting racism. His approach was not always a success: he was a victim of several racial incidents throughout his life.

1919 – 1936

Nathaniel Adams Coles was born on March 17 1919* in Montgomery, Alabama. He was born in a poor family: his father, Edward James Coles sr., was a reverend, his mother Perlina Adams Coles was the choir director of her husband’s church. Even though Nat’s parents had thirteen children, only five of them made it to adulthood. Nat grew up with his brother Edward jr. and his two sisters, Eddie Mae and Evelyn. When Nat was four years old his family moved to Chicago where his father had been offered pastorship of the True Light Baptist Church. In Chicago his parents got two more boys, Issac and Lionel (better known as “Freddie”.) Nat was taught to play the piano at an early age by his mother. Perlina, determined to give her children a musical education, succeeded. Her four sons all became professional musicians.

When Nat was 12 years old he regularly sung and played the organ in church. After he joined Wendell Phillips High School he was introduced to jazz music and was greatly enthusiastic about this new type of music: together with his brother Eddie he would explore the Chicago jazz scene whenever he could. In 1934 Nat organized a jazz quintet called “Nat Coles and his Royal Dukes”, as well as a 14-piece orchestra called “Rogues of Rhythm”. When Nat heard Earl Hines play one night, he was heavily impressed and driven to give his quintet a new, more rhythmic sound, much like Hines’. Later he’d say about Hines: "It was his driving force that appealed to me ... I was just a kid and coming up, but I latched onto that new Hines style. Guess I still show the influence today." (-Down Beat, 1957). When Nat was 16 he joined Eddie’s band “Solid Swingers” and started performing at jazz joints throughout Chicago. It was in these joints that Nat gained his first bit of success. The (mere) success didn’t do much good to Nat’s educational career: he dropped out of High School in 1936.

1936 - 1940

Not long after he turned 18, Nat married Nadine Robinson. They had met each other on the vaudevilleShuffle Along”. Nadine was one of the show’s dancers, while Nat was a pianist in the vaudeville-orchestra. When the show ended the couple settled in Los Angeles. They didn’t have much money and in order to pay the rent Nat had to play the piano in local beer joints for little pay. After a year of hard work Cole’s talent was discovered by the owner of the famous Century Club, at that time the most popular hangout in L.A. for jazz musicians – Nat became a regular performer at this club.

Around 1938 Nat was asked to form a quintet (that eventually became a trio as drummer Lee Young didn’t show up on the opening night.) After bassist Wesley Prince and guitarist Oscar Moore joined, the group performed at the Sewanee Inn, an L.A. nightclub. Owner of the nightclub, Bob Lewis, asked from Nat that he would carry a golden crown made of paper - this is how Nat got his nickname “King”. Nat soon got rid of the crown, but the band kept its name: the “King Cole Trio”.

1940 - 1950

In their early days, the King Cole Trio played instrumental jazz. After 1940 they gradually introduced vocals to their music**. December 1940 they had the opportunity to record for the Decca record company. They recorded the hit song “Sweet Lorraine” and the groups’ popularity increased dramatically.

The King Cole Trio was a bit of an oddity in their days. The music scene was dominated by Big Bands and black musicians were rejected from popular clubs, racism still being very common in the early 1940s. The trio, however, was one of the first bands to be accepted to these “white” clubs.

In 1941 the band went on a national tour. After touring for a few months they settled in New York where they performed at top jazz clubs. In 1942 Wesley Prince was drafted, he was replaced by Johnny Miller. With Miller the group moved back to Los Angeles where they did a series of performances at club “331”. One year later the trio was signed to Capitol Records. They recorded “Straighten Up and Fly Right”, which became a hit in 1944***. More hits the group made with Capitol in this period were “Get Your Kicks on Route 66" and "For Sentimental Reasons," amongst others.

The late 1940s were a busy time for the trio. From 1946 till 1950 they filled the weekly radio program “Kraft Music Hall.” Together with pianist Eddy Duchin they gave young skillful artists the chance to reach a large audience. "You have no idea how much satisfaction I got from the acceptance of the trio, because we opened the way for countless other small groups, units that before were strictly for cocktail lounges," Cole told Down Beat in 1957. In the same period the trio also played in a few movies, including “Breakfast in Hollywood”, “See my lawyer” and “The Stork Club.”

In 1946 Nat met the singer Maria Ellington (not related to The Duke, although she sang in his band for a short time) and fell in love with her. After divorcing Nadine he married Maria on March 28, 1948. Influenced by Maria, Nat radically moved away from jazz with the major hit “The Christmas Song” (December 1946.) “The Christmas Song” was the first song in which Nat sung rather than played the piano, with string section accompaniment. In 1947 Oscar Moore decided to leave the trio, Irving Ashby took his place. Nat more and more desired to become a mainstream artist rather than a jazz pianist. This was made clear in another major hit song: “Nature Boy” (1948.)

1950 - 1960

Nat’s first daughter, Natalie (nicknamed “Sweetie”) was born on February 6, 1950. A few months later Nat released the ballad “Mona Lisa(that stayed on the charts for a record amount of weeks.) “Mona Lisa” permanently changed Nat’s career. The other members of the Cole King Trio had become Nat’s background music, this caused irritations and in 1955 the trio split up. Nat now gained great fame as a solo singer, many of his new fans didn’t even know he used to be a jazz pianist. During the 50’s he made success with "Unforgettable," "Too Young," "Answer Me, My Love," and "Darling, Je Vous Aime Beaucoup."

In 1956 Nat was asked to start an own TV show for NBC. This was quite an event: never before a major TV company had asked a Negro to host a show. The show was popular and got good ratings, but Nat never knew to find a sponsor. Businesses were afraid that white southern audiences would associate their products with a Negro. This caused the show to be cancelled after only one year of airtime. Nat did appear on the big screen another few times: in the movie “St. Louis Blues”(1958) for example, and in “The Nat King Cole Story”(1955), an autobiographic film. For a complete list of movies Nat appeared in, see the filmography below.

Mid-fifties Nat and Maria adopted Maria’s sister’s daughter Carol, after both of Carol’s parents had died. In 1959 they adopted a boy whom they called Nat Kelly.

Plagued by the popularity of Rock and Roll and upcoming artists like Johnny Mathis and Harry Belafonte, Nat’s career went a bit downhill in the late fifties. To prevent this he organized a touring concert show called “Sights and Sounds.” The show presented a group of young dancers and singers who called themselves the “Merry Young Souls.”

1960 - 1965

Even though Nat and Maria never thought they would get any more children of their own, in 1961 Maria got pregnant and gave birth to twins: Casey (named after baseball legend Casey Stengel) and Timolin.

Nat’s career knew a revival in the early 1960s after he recorded the pop songs "Ramblin' Rose" and "Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer" that both came on #1 in the American charts.

Late 1964 Nat was diagnosed with lung cancer. Several medical treatments were unsuccessful. In 1965 he made his last recordings for the "L*O*V*E" album. Two weeks later, on February 15 1965, Nat King Cole died at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica, California.

1991

In 1991 Nat regained some of his popularity when his daughter Natalie Cole recorded the duet “Unforgettable.” For this song she combined her own voice with old records of her father. Natalie received a Grammy award for “Unforgettable”.

Discography

(( for a more complete list, see http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=B9duvad4kv8w2~C#disc0 ))


	1943  	Harvest of Hits (Capitol)
	1944  	Nat Cole at J.A.T.P., Vol. 1 (live)(Verve)
	1944  	Nat Cole at J.A.T.P., Vol. 2 (live)(Verve)
	1944  	The Keynoters with Nat King Cole(Mercury)
	1944  	The King Cole Trio (Capitol)
	1945  	Anatomy of a Jam Session (Black Lion)
	1950  	The King Cole Trio, Vol. 3(Capitol)
	1950  	The King Cole Trio, Vol. 2(Capitol)
	1950  	Nat King Cole at the Piano(Capitol)
	1950  	The Nat King Cole Trio, Vol. 1(Capitol)
	1950  	The Nat King Cole Trio, Vol. 3 (78s) (Capitol)
	1952  	Penthouse Serenade (Capitol)
	1953  	Unforgettable (Capitol)
	1954  	Sings for Two in Love (And More)(Capitol)
	1954  	The King Cole Trio (Aladdin)
	1955  	Piano Stylings	(Capitol)
	1955  	Moods in Song (Capitol)
	1955  	Nat "King" Cole Sings (Capitol)
	1956  	Ballads of the Day (Capitol)
	1956  	In the Beginning (Decca)
	1956  	The Piano Style of Nat King Cole (Capitol)
	1957  	Just One of Those Things (Capitol)
	1957  	This Is Nat "King" Cole (Capitol)
	1957  	Live 1957 Broadcast (Radiola)
	1957  	The Lester Young-King Cole Trio (Capitol)
	1957  	After Midnight (Capitol)
	1957  	Love Is the Thing (And More) (Capitol)
	1958  	St. Louis Blues (Capitol)
	1958  	The Swingin' Side (Capitol)
	1958  	The Very Thought of You (Capitol)
	1958  	Cole Espanol & More, Vol. 1(Capitol)
	1958  	To Whom It May Concern (Capitol)
	1959  	A Mis Amigos	(Capitol)
	1959  	Welcome to the Club (Capitol)
	1960  	Nat King Cole at the Sands (live) (Capitol)
	1960  	Tell Me All About Yourself (Capitol)
	1960  	Wild Is Love (Capitol)
	1960  	Every Time I Feel the Spirit (Capitol)
	1960  	The Magic of Christmas (Capitol)
	1961  	The Touch of Your Lips (Capitol)
	1961  	Nat King Cole Sings/George Shearing Plays (Capitol)
	1961  	String Along with Nat "King" Cole		 
	1962  	Dear Lonely Hearts (Capitol)
	1962  	More Cole Espanol (Capitol)
	1962  	Nat King Cole Sings the Blues, Vol. 1(Capitol)
	1962  	Ramblin' Rose (And More) (Capitol)
	1963  	Where Did Everyone Go? (Capitol)
	1963  	Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer (Capitol)
	1963  	Sings My Fair Lady (Capitol)
	1963  	The Christmas Song (Capitol)
	1963  	Nat King Cole Sings the Blues, Vol. 2 (Capitol)
	1963  	Top Pops (Capitol)
	1964  	I Don't Want to Be Hurt Anymore (Capitol)
	1964  	Let's Face the Music! (Capitol)
	1965  	L-O-V-E (Capitol)
	1965  	Songs from Cat Ballou and Other Motion...(Capitol) 
 

Filmography


         1943	Here Comes Elmer
         1943	Pistol Packin' Mama
         1944	Stars on Parade 
         1945	See My Lawyer
         1948	Breakfast in Hollywood
         1948	Killer Diller
         1949	Make Believe Ballroom
         1950	King Cole Trio & Benny Carter Orchestra
         1953	Blue Gardenia, The
         1953	Small Town Girl
         1953	Nat 'King' Cole and Russ Morgan and His Orchestra
         1954	Kiss Me Deadly
         1955	Nat 'King' Cole Musical Story, The
         1956	Rock 'n' Roll Revue
         1955	Rhythm and Blues Revue
         1956	"Nat King Cole Show, The"
         1956	Scarlet Hour, The 
         1956	Basin Street Revue 
         1957	Istanbul 
         1957	China Gate 
         1958	St. Louis Blues
         1959	Night of the Quarter Moon
         1965	Cat Ballou

* The birth years Nat used differ, but 1919 is most commonly accepted.
** Nat never thought he had much vocal talent and was reluctant to sing in public. In 1954 he told The Saturday Evening Post: "My voice is nothing to be proud of. It runs maybe two octaves in range. I guess it's the hoarse, breathy noise that some like."
*** Nat had composed "Straighten Up and Fly Right" and had sold the rights to the song a few years earlier for $50. When it became a hit song the group earned almost nothing from it.

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