Nathaniel Adams Coles was born on March 17, 1919 in Montgomery, Alabama and his family moved north to Chicago when he was two years old seeking a better life. Cole was around music growing up as his father was a pastor and his mother the choir director in the same church. Nat learned piano by ear from his mother and showed his musical talent when at the age of four he was able to play a two-handed version of ‘Yes, We Have No Bananas’. By the time Nat was twelve he was playing organ in his father’s church and taking classical lessons on piano. It wasn’t long before the Jazz of Chicago influenced Cole as he would go out and hear the likes of Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines and Jimmie Noone. Cole formed his first band as a teenager with his older brother Eddie on bass and they made their first recording under Eddie’s name in 1936. Nat’s first big break came as the piano player for the national tour of the show “Shuffle Along” and when that tour ended in Los Angeles, California Cole decided to stay and make his home there.
Cole formed a trio in Los Angeles with Oscar Moore on guitar and Johnny Miller on bass and Nat would periodically sing numbers throughout the course of the night but as time went on the audience wanted more and more of Nat’s voice. In the 1940s Nat signed with Capitol Records and his career began to take off with hits like “Straighten Up and Fly Right”, “The Christmas Song”, “It’s Only A Paper Moon”, and “Nature Boy” among others. Nat was so popular that his record sales helped make Capitol Records into huge label and the Capitol Records Building on Hollywood and Vine in Los Angeles is known as “the house that Nat Built”. Nat was a regular guest on every major talk show at the time and was so natural as a performer and entertainer that he reached an agreement with NBC to host his own show which began in 1956. He became the first African-American to host his own show on national television. The show had trouble finding companies willing to purchase national advertising due to Racism at the time and the fear that advertising on Nat’s show would hurt their sales. In Nat’s own words “"For 13 months I was the Jackie Robinson of television. I was the pioneer, the test case, the Negro first....On my show rode the hopes and tears and dreams of millions of people....Once a week for 64 consecutive weeks I went to bat for these people. I sacrificed and drove myself. I plowed part of my salary back into the show. I turned down $500,000 in dates in order to be on the scene. I did everything I could to make the show a success. And what happened? After a trailblazing year that shattered all the old bugaboos about Negroes on TV, I found myself standing there with the bat on my shoulder. The men who dictate what Americans see and hear didn't want to play ball." Nat also suffered from the racism of that period by the network ‘whiting’ him up with heavy makeup which is obvious in some of the videos above.
In addition to his music career Cole also starred in movies such as ‘Istanbul’, ‘China Gate’, and ‘Night of the Quarter Moon ’and ‘St. Louis Blues’ among others but his greatest talent and success always was with performing. Nat continued to perform and remained incredibly popular until his early passing in 1965. Nat King Cole has won six Grammy awards in his life and after and was inducted to the Alabama Music Hall of fame, Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame, Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame, Hit Parade Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll hall of Fame and so many more. Nat King Cole leaves a legacy of one the most important artists in American history by blazing a path no African-American had been able to before him as well as influencing his peers and future generations of musicians.
Nat blazed the trail for African-Americans
on television and gave us such beautiful,
In honor of the King. Enjoy! - Nat King Cole - Route 66