NAT KING COLE was an American musician who first came to prominence as a leading jazz pianist. He owes most of his popular musical fame to his soft baritone voice, which he used to perform in big band and jazz genres. He was one of the first black Americans to host a television variety show, and has maintained worldwide popularity since his death. He set the standards for not only black musicians but for all musicians, and his name is always mentioned as one of the greatest singers in the history of music, jazz or otherwise. "King" is an appropriate tag on his name, for he surely was a king of the music world.
Cole's first mainstream vocal hit was his 1943 recording of one of his compositions, "Straighten Up and Fly Right", based on a black folk tale that his father had used as a theme for a sermon. Johnny Mercer invited him to record it for his fledgling Capitol Records label. It sold over 500,000 copies, proving that folk-based material could appeal to a wide audience. Although Cole would never be considered a rocker, the song can be seen as anticipating the first rock and roll records. Indeed, Bo Diddley, who performed similar transformations of folk material, counted Cole as an influence. In 1946, the Cole trio paid to have their own 15-minute radio program on the air. It was called, "King Cole Trio Time." It became the first radio program sponsored by a black performing artist. During those years, the trio recorded many "transcription" recordings, which were recording made in the radio studio for the broadcast. Later they were used for commercial records. Beginning in the late 1940s, Cole began recording and performing pop-oriented material for mainstream audiences, in which he was often accompanied by a string orchestra. His stature as a popular icon was cemented during this period by hits such as "The Christmas Song" (Cole recorded that tune four times: on June 14, 1946, as a pure Trio recording, on August 19, 1946, with an added string section, on August 24, 1953, and in 1961 for the double album The Nat King Cole Story; this final version, recorded in stereo, is the one most often heard today), "Nature Boy" (1948), "Mona Lisa" (1950), "Too Young" (the #1 song in 1951), and his signature tune "Unforgettable" (1951) . While this shift to pop music led some jazz critics and fans to accuse Cole of selling out, he never totally abandoned his jazz roots; as late as 1956, for instance, he recorded an all-jazz album After Midnight. Cole had one of his last big hits in 1963, two years before his death, with the classic "Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer", which reached #6 on the Pop chart. They may not have always been #1 recordings, but in his career, Nat charted over 120 single hits, and many albums.
Cole was inducted into both the Alabama Music Hall of Fame and the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame. In 1990, he was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 1997 was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame. In 2007, he was inducted into the Hit Parade Hall of Fame. EVERY CHRISTMAS, NAT KING COLE is remembered by this perennial favorite:
While you can click on the song titles above and see and hear some of Nat's bigger hits, check out the you tube's below to see others you may still remember:
A SPECIAL TRIBUTE TO NAT FROM PERRY COMO AND LENA HORNE, SHORTLY AFTER HIS DEATH FROM LUNG CANCER IN 1965
JUST A FEW OF NAT'S HIT ALBUMS, MOST OF WHICH ARE STILL AVAILABLE THROUGH VARIOUS SUPPLIERS, ESPECIALLY WWW.AMAZON.COM
Be sure to check out Nat's website, www.natkingcole.org, as well as our special playlist of his music on spotify.com (the link can be found on our MUSIC! MUSIC! MUSIC! PAGE.)