Nat King Cole
Nat King Cole remains a definitive American artist. With a voice still instantly recognizable well over 50 years after leaving this mortal plane, even to the young, its sound resonates and represents when times were best.
Poised with boundless talent, in the darker days of America, he rose above the fray and ugliness of racism, emanating class, beauty, and garnering respect during a time when a black man rarely could. A brilliant jazz pianist and bandleader, Nat King Cole scored an astounding 150 singles across Billboard’s Pop, R&B, and Country charts. To understand just how popular and successful Cole was, it was often whispered that the mighty Capitol Records was in fact, “The House That Nat Built.”
The song titles tell the story of an artist and musician that defied classification, genre and era. His was the sound of kindness, of love: Simply put, Nat King Cole’s voice proved there could be an actual heaven on Earth. It was a testament to his genius that a unique and gifted pianist such as Nat King Cole would be remembered today as primarily being a vocalist. His recordings and radio broadcasts – The King Cole Trio Time – only underscore the other side of Nat King Cole’s incredible range and creative vision as a keyboardist and jazz pioneer.
Nat King Cole’s most enduring songs have become part of the fiber of our time and the soundtrack to the ways of the heart – “Unforgettable,” “Mona Lisa,” “The Very Thought Of You,” “When I Fall In Love,” “It’s Only A Paper Moon,” “Straighten Up And Fly Right,” “Nature Boy,” “Stardust,” “L-O-V-E,” and perhaps the most classic of all yuletide favorites, “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire).”
As a popular artist, Cole broke boundaries on radio, TV, and film. His 1946 radio show King Cole Trio Time was the first hosted by a black man. 11 years later, he broke the race barrier once again by hosting the wildly successful Nat King Cole Show on NBC, which ran for 42 episodes. His acting credits include such films as 1957’s China Gate, 1958’s St. Louis Blues, and the posthumously-released Cat Ballou in 1965.
In 1961, Nat King Cole performed at President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural gala and was an active supporter and participant in the civil rights movement, playing a key role in planning the historic 1963 March on Washington.
The long shadow of Nat King Cole’s career continues to impress, with six platinum albums and the six-times platinum certified single “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire).” He snagged the 1959 Grammy Award for Best Performance By A “Top 40” Artist for “Midnight Flyer” and four years later, he was singled out with a special achievement award from the Golden Globes. In addition to being bestowed the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) – he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as an “Early Influence” in 2000.
Amazingly, in 1991 Nat King Cole was back on the charts with his voice connecting to millions of news ears. With his now-late daughter, Natalie Cole, their virtual recording of “Unforgettable” earned three coveted statues at the 34th Annual Grammy Awards: Song Of The Year, Record Of The Year, and Best Traditional Pop Vocal Performance. Nat King Cole once again proved the best things in life not only truly last – but live on forever.