March 17th in African American History – Nathaniel Adams “Nat King” Cole

Nathaniel Adams “Nat King” ColeMarch 17, 1919 Nathaniel Adams “Nat King” Cole, jazz pianist and singer, was born in Montgomery, Alabama.

Cole learned to play the organ from his mother and began performing in the 1930s with the King Cole Trio.

They signed with Capitol Records in 1943 and revenue from Cole’s recordings accounted for so much of Capitol’s success that 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 on February 15, 1965. 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, “The Life and Mystique of Nat King Cole,” was published in 1991.

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