February 15th in African American History – Nat King Cole

Nat King ColeFebruary 15, 1965 Nat King Cole, jazz pianist and singer, died.

Cole was born Nathaniel Adam Coles on March 17, 1919 in Montgomery, Alabama. He began performing in the 1930s with the King Cole Trio and in 1943 they signed with Capitol Records.

Revenue from Cole’s recordings accounted for much of Capitol’s success and the headquarters that they built in 1956 is often referred to as “the house that Nat built.” Cole’s first vocal hit was his 1943 recording of “Straighten Up and Fly Right” which sold over 500,000 copies. This was followed by such hits as “The Christmas Song” (1946), “Nature Boy” (1948), “Mona Lisa” (1950), “Unforgettable” (1951), and “Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer” (1963).

On November 5, 1956, “The Nat King Cole Show” debuted, the first television show hosted by an African American. The show only lasted a year because of the lack of a national sponsor. Cole also appeared in a number of films, including “The Blue Gardenia” (1953), “St. Louis Blues” (1958), and “Cat Ballou” (1965). Cole’s last album, “L-O-V-E,” was released just prior to his death.

Cole was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1990 and in 1997 was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame. Cole’s biography, “Unforgettable: The Life and Mystique of Nat King Cole,” was published in 1991.

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