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NAT KING COLE

Singer and jazz pianist (1919-1965)

Nat King Cole learned to play the piano when he was very young.  His mother was the only piano teacher that he ever had.  His first public performance was at the age of four and when he was in Kindergarten, he played for the other children.  Nat regularly played in his father's church from the age of 11 and was an accomplished pianist by the age of 12.  He formed his first jazz band when he was in high school.  One day Nat asked if their family was poor.  His mother answered "Yes", then he asked, "Are we poor, poor, poor."  This time she answered ""Yes we are." Then Nat said a very strange thing, "One day my name will be up in lights and we won't be poor anymore." 

Nat's early career was mainly as a pianist, he played in a trio with one of his brothers.  The trio did not have a drummer because Nat's piano playing kept rhythm so well.  By the time Nat was 20, his music was known in every beer joint in L.A.  One night Nat was playing in a pub and one of his listeners asked him to sing.  Nat didn't want to until his boss said he'd better.  Nat then became well known as a singer.  He sold over 50 million records.  He was one of the first people to make records with the company called "capital Records."  He sold so many records that the company headquarters was often referred to as "The House that Nat Built"  He was once invited to play for President Kennedy, and the President in return, attended Natalie Cole's debutante ball. 

Nat was the first Black man to have his own radio show and later his own T.V. show.   In 1946, Nat started doing a radio show every week.  He would play for a half an hour on Saturday afternoon, from whatever town he was doing concerts in.  The radio show lasted for 4 years.  In October 1956, Nat started his own TV show.  It was probably the first serious attempt by a TV Station to have a Negro as a shows host.  It was very popular, but businesses were afraid that White southern audiences would stop buying their products if they advertised during the show.  Nat also appeared in quite a few movies.  The best known of these is "St. Louis Blues." in which he played the role of the jazz composer, W.C. Handy.  He also appeared in a film about himself called "The Nat King Cole Story."  Nat met Maria Ellington in 1946, and married her on the 28th of March in 1948.  Maria was a singer, she was not related to Duke Ellington, although she sang in his band for a while.  Some years after Nat's death, she put together a show of her own, which premiered in Australia.  Nat died in 1965 of lung cancer.

Revised: July 18, 2013.