Nat King Cole: Route 66

16 Feb

Nat King Cole

Nat King at the piano

Remembering Nat King Cole, born Nathaniel Adams Coles, on the day after his death in 1965.

His voice may have been, uh, unforgettable; so should his ability on the piano, though it’s often overlooked by the litany of songs he sang.

He learned to play the piano from his mother and was influenced by Earl Hines. His voice, he believed, came in part from smoking cigarettes; it was lung cancer that killed him at age 45.

Legend has it that Cole only started singing to satisfy an inebriated customer, who wasn’t content with hearing just Cole’s piano playing. Thus was launched the voice that made a multitude of hits. Cole eventually was weaned off the piano, and his group morphed from jazz to more traditional ballads and pop.

Jazz critic Ralph Gleason, from the liner notes of After Midnight: “Long before he was known as a singer, Nat was one of the best of all jazz pianists . . .”

Overstatement? Perhaps. As a singer, Cole became so popular he was the first African-American to host his own TV show in 1956. Little more than a year later, Cole ended the show because of an inability to attract national advertising. He said Madison Avenue was “afraid of the dark.”

Racism was a constant that Cole faced, from his short-lived TV show, to an attack on stage in Alabama (he never performed again in the South), to moving into an all-white neighborhood in Los Angeles.

Cole handled it with the aplomb of a performer. He was born into it in the Deep South; his family had no birth certificate for him.

Wrote Jay Cocks of Time: “He wasn’t corrupted by the mainstream. He used jazz to enrich and renew it, and left behind a lasting legacy. Very like a king.”

Next: Thelonious Monk


One Response to “Nat King Cole: Route 66”


  1. African American singer Nat King Cole and his racist Los Angeles neighbours | Dear Kitty. Some blog - May 18, 2014

    […] Nat King Cole: Route 66 […]

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