On March 17, 2019, we celebrate the 100th birthday of one of the greatest singers of the 20th Century. But beyond his pitch-perfect, golden voice, Nat King Cole (born Nathaniel Adams Coles in Montgomery, Alabama) was an exceptional pianist and songwriter. Trained in classical, jazz, and gospel, his natural talent led him to the life of a professional musician.
Nat King Cole Trio "Straighten Up and Fly Right"
After a great deal of success with the King Cole Trio (featuring Wesley Prince on bass and Oscar Moore on guitar), he eventually established himself a solo artist. Recording hundreds of songs in his lifetime, he sang a wide range of styles – everything from jazz standards to country classics.
Nat King Cole "Sweet Lorraine"
Sadly, he also had several personal experiences with racism. In 1948, a burning cross was placed by the KKK on the front lawn of his Los Angeles home. In 1956, he was attacked on stage in Birmingham, Alabama by three members of the North Alabama Citizens Council.
Nat King Cole "Almost Like Being In Love"
NBC’s “The Nat ‘King’ Cole Show” (the very first television program hosted by an African-American) lived a short run as it was unable to secure a national sponsor – causing Cole to later comment, “Madison Avenue is afraid of the dark.” He also received criticism from members of his own community for his performances to all-white audiences. Thurgood Marshall, counsel for the NAACP and a future Supreme Court justice, once quipped, “All Cole needs to complete his role as an Uncle Tom is a banjo."
Nat King Cole "Ramblin' Rose"
Yet, despite the struggles, nothing would prevent Cole from becoming one of the biggest entertainers of his day. And well beyond his lifetime, he remains one of the most iconic and beloved singers of all time.
Today in Hollywood, California, just north of the intersection of Hollywood and Vine, there remains a tribute to his greatness. Known to some as “The House That Nat Built,” the Capitol Records Building (financed with the enormous amount of income generated by his record sales) stands as a reminder of the impact of his contributions to the world of music.
But beyond any monetary value, the true influence of his legacy is almost immeasurable. May the memory of Nat King Cole and his voice remain with us for hundreds of years to come.
Nat King Cole "L-O-V-E"