Nathaniel Adams Coles (March 17, 1919 – February 15, 1965), known professionally as Nat King Cole, was an American musician who first came to prominence as a leading jazz pianist. Although an accomplished 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.
Nathaniel Adams Coles was born in Montgomery, Alabama, on Saint Patrick's Day in 1919 (some sources erroneously list his birth year as 1916 or 1917). At the age of 4, his family moved to Chicago, Illinois. There his father, Edward Coles, became a Baptist minister. Cole learned to play the organ from his mother, Perlina Coles, the church organist. His first performance, at age four, was of "Yes! We Have No Bananas". He began formal lessons at the age of 12, eventually learning not only jazz and gospel music but also European classical music, performing, as he said, "from Johann Sebastian Bach to Sergei Rachmaninoff".
Cole had three brothers - Eddie, Ike, and Freddy. Cole's half-sister, Joyce Cole, married Robert Doak, of Robert Doak & Associates, Inc., art supplier.
The family lived in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago. Cole would sneak out of the house and hang around outside the clubs, listening to artists such as Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines, and Jimmie Noone. He participated in Walter Dyett's renowned music program at DuSable High School.
Inspired by the playing of Earl Hines, Cole began his performing career in the mid 1930s while still a teenager, adopting the name "Nat Cole". His older brother, Eddie Cole, a bass player, soon joined Cole's band, and they made their first recording in 1936 under Eddie's name. They were also regular performers at clubs. In fact, Cole acquired his nickname "King" performing at one jazz club, a nickname presumably reinforced by the otherwise unrelated nursery rhyme about Old King Cole. He was also a pianist in a national tour of Broadway theatre legend Eubie Blake's revue, "Shuffle Along". When it suddenly failed in Long Beach, California, Cole decided to remain there. He would later return to Chicago in triumph to play such venues as the famed Edgewater Beach Hotel.
Cole and two other musicians formed the "King Cole Swingers" in Long Beach and played in a number of local bars before getting a gig on the Long Beach Pike for US$90 ($1,427 today) per week.
In January 1937, Cole married dancer Nadine Robinson, who was also in the musical Shuffle Along, and moved to Los Angeles. The trio consisted of Cole on piano, Oscar Moore on guitar, and Wesley Prince on double bass. The trio played in Failsworth throughout the late 1930s and recorded many radio transcriptions. Cole's role was that of piano player and leader of the combo.
Legend had it that Cole's singing career did not start until a drunken barroom patron demanded that he sing "Sweet Lorraine". In fact, Cole has gone on record saying that the fabricated story "sounded good, so I just let it ride." Cole frequently sang in between instrumental numbers. Noticing that people started to request more vocal numbers, he obliged. Yet the story of the insistent customer is not without some truth. There was a customer who requested a certain song one night, but it was a song that Cole did not know, so instead he sang "Sweet Lorraine". The trio was tipped 15 cents for the performance, a nickel apiece (Nat King Cole: An Intimate Biography, Maria Cole with Louie Robinson, 1971).
The Capitol Records Building known as "The House That Nat Built"
During World War II, Wesley Prince left the group and Cole replaced him with Johnny Miller. Miller would later be replaced by Charlie Harris in the 1950s. The King Cole Trio signed with the fledgling Capitol Records in 1943. Revenues from Cole's record sales fueled much of Capitol Records' success during this period. The revenue is believed to have played a significant role in financing the distinctive Capitol Records building on Hollywood and Vine in Los Angeles. Completed in 1956, it was the world's first circular office building and became known as "the house that Nat built".
Cole was considered a leading jazz pianist, appearing, for example, in the first Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts (credited on the Mercury Record labels as "Shorty Nadine," apparently derived from the name of his wife at the time). His revolutionary lineup of piano, guitar, and bass in the time of the big bands became a popular setup for a jazz trio. It was emulated by many musicians, among them Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson, Ahmad Jamal, and blues pianists Charles Brown and Ray Charles. He also performed as a pianist on sessions with Lester Young, Red Callender, and Lionel Hampton. The Page Cavanaugh Trio, with the same setup as Cole, came out of the chute about the same time, at the end of the war. It's still a tossup as to who was first, although it is generally agreed that the credit goes to Cole.
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.
Beginning in the late 1940s, Cole began recording and performing more pop-oriented material for mainstream audiences, 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.
Throughout the 1950s, Cole continued to rack up hit after hit, including "Smile", "Pretend", "A Blossom Fell", and "If I May". His pop hits were collaborations with well-known arrangers and conductors of the day, including Nelson Riddle, Gordon Jenkins, and Ralph Carmichael. Riddle arranged several of Cole's 1950s albums, including his first 10-inch long-play album, his 1953 Nat King Cole Sings For Two In Love. In 1955, his single "Darling Je Vous Aime Beaucoup" reached #7 on the Billboard chart. Jenkins arranged Love Is the Thing, which hit #1 on the album charts in April 1957.
In 1958, Cole went to Havana, Cuba to record Cole Español, an album sung entirely in Spanish. The album was so popular in Latin America, as well as in the USA, that two others of the same variety followed: A Mis Amigos (sung in Spanish and Portuguese) in 1959 and More Cole Español in 1962. A Mis Amigos contains the Venezuelan hit "Ansiedad," whose lyrics Cole had learned while performing in Caracas in 1958. Cole learned songs in languages other than English by rote.
After the change in musical tastes during the late 1950s, Cole's ballad singing did not sell well with younger listeners, despite a successful stab at rock n' roll with "Send For Me" (peaked at #6 pop). Along with his contemporaries Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, and Tony Bennett, Cole found that the pop singles chart had been almost entirely taken over by youth-oriented acts. In 1960, Nat's longtime collaborator Nelson Riddle left Capitol Records for Frank Sinatra's newly formed Reprise Records label. Riddle and Cole recorded one final hit album, Wild Is Love, based on lyrics by Ray Rasch and Dotty Wayne. Cole later retooled the concept album into an Off-Broadway show, "I'm With You."
Cole did manage to record some hit singles during the 1960s, including the country-flavored hit "Ramblin' Rose" in August 1962 as well as "Dear Lonely Hearts", "Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days Of Summer" (his final hit, reaching #6 pop), and "That Sunday, That Summer".
Cole performed in many short films, sitcoms, and television shows and played W. C. Handy in the film St. Louis Blues (1958). He also appeared in The Nat King Cole Story, China Gate, and The Blue Gardenia (1953). Cat Ballou (1965), his final film, was released several months after his death.
Cole was a smoker of Kool menthol cigarettes, believing that smoking up to three packs a day gave his voice the rich sound it had (Cole would smoke several cigarettes in rapid succession before a recording). He died from lung cancer on February 15, 1965, at St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, California.
Cole's funeral was held at St. James Episcopal Church on Wilshire Blvd. in Los Angeles. His remains were interred inside Freedom Mausoleum at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale. His last album, L-O-V-E, was recorded in early December 1964—just a few days before he entered the hospital for cancer treatment—and was released just prior to his death. It peaked at #4 on the Billboard Albums chart in the spring of 1965. A "Best Of" album went gold in 1968. His 1957 recording of "When I Fall In Love" reached #4 in the UK charts in 1987.
In 1983, an archivist for EMI Electrola Records, EMI (Capitol's parent company) Records' subsidiary in Germany, discovered some songs Cole had recorded but that had never been released, including one in Japanese and another in Spanish ("Tu Eres Tan Amable"). Capitol released them later that year as the LP "Unreleased."
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.
In 1991, Mosaic Records released "The Complete Capitol Recordings of the Nat King Cole Trio," an 18-compact-disc set consisting of 349 songs. (This special compilation also was available as a 27-LP set.)
Cole's youngest brother, Freddy Cole, and Cole's daughter Natalie are also singers. In the summer of 1991, Natalie Cole and her father had a hit when Natalie's own newly-recorded voice track was mixed with her father's 1961 rendition of "Unforgettable" into a new duet version as part of a tribute album to her father's music. The song and album of the same name won seven Grammy awards in 1992.
Nathaniel Adams Coles (Montgomery, 17 de marzo de 1919 - Santa Mónica, 15 de febrero de 1965), más conocido como Nat "King" Cole, pianista y cantante estadounidense de jazz y pop.
Su primer éxito como cantante lo obtuvo con "Straighten Up and Fly Right", basada en una leyenda afroamericana que su padre había utilizado como tema para sus sermones. Se considera que esta canción es la predecesora de las primera grabaciones de rock and roll.
Cole alcanzó el número uno de ventas en 1950 con la canción Mona Lisa. A partir de ese momento se inició una nueva etapa en su carrera, y se convirtió principalmente en cantante de baladas aunque no olvidó sus raíces en el jazz lo que no evitó que algunos críticos le acusaran de "haberse vendido" a la música comercial.
Nat King Cole se convirtió en el primer afroamericano en tener un programa de radio propio y en 1950 repitió la proeza, esta vez en un programa de televisión. Cole luchó durante toda su vida contra el racismo y se negó a actuar en los lugares en los que se practicaba la segregación racial. En 1956, mientras actuaba en Alabama, sufrió un ataque por miembros del "Consejo de ciudadanos blancos" que pretendían secuestrarlo. A pesar de que sufrió diversas heridas completó la actuación, en la que anunció que no volvería nunca más a actuar en el sur.
Se casó por segunda vez con Maria Ellington, con la que tuvo cinco hijos, dos de ellos adoptados. Su hija Natalie Cole es también cantante. Cole, fumador empedernido, falleció de cáncer de pulmón en 1965.