Nat-King-Cole105 years ago today, Nathaniel Adams Coles, son of a preacher and a choir organist, was born on March 17, 1919 in Montgomery, Alabama and raised in Chicago. He began playing piano in nightclubs as a teenager, and today is


One of America’s most distinctive and accomplished singers, Nat Cole started out as the leader of a jazz threesome playing jump blues, swing and novelty songs, becoming a popular local club  attraction.

In 1936, he got a job playing piano in the touring company of Eubie Blake’s Broadway show “Shuffle Along.” When the show went broke in Long Beach, California, Nat Cole stayed on in Los Angeles, forming the influential Nat King Cole Trio and working as a session musician.

It was in LA that Cole recorded his first mainstream hit for Johnny Mercer’s fledgling Capitol Records, selling half a million copies of “Straighten Up And Fly Right.” America fell in love with Nat King Cole’s voice, his records sold like hotcakes, and in 1946 he was the was given his own radio show, the 15 minute-long “Nat King Cole Trio Time.”

Ten years later, Cole became the first black entertainer with his own TV show, “The Nat King Cole Show” on NBC, which was expanded from 15 to 30 minutes and featured such musical stars as Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Torme (who wrote “The Christmas Song” that Nat immortalized; “Chestnuts roasting on a open fire . . .”) Harry Belafonte, Eartha Kitt and Peggy Lee, giving these artists national exposure.

Unfortunately, the lack of a national sponsor willing to advertise their product on a “Black show” led to its cancellation in the last days of the Jim Crow Era. What will always be remembered, and always treasured, was that voice, the smoky, familiar tone, the tenderness and seemingly effortless delivery, a perfect reading of every lyric. Nat King Cole was a true giant.

•Suggested Activities: Straighten up and fly right.

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