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Jazz legend, Nat King Cole, was born March 17, 1919, in Montgomery, Alabama, to a Baptist pastor and a church choir director. Cole is known for his vocal style and chart-topping hits that include “Nature Boy,” “Mona Lisa,” “Too Young,” and “Unforgettable.”
Born Nathaniel Adams Cole, the musician grew up in Chicago, and by the age of 12, he was singing and playing the organ in his father’s church. At 17, Cole formed his first jazz group, the Royal Dukes, and went on tour with a black musical revue before playing in different jazz clubs in Los Angeles.
Through his performances, Cole was able to form the King Cole Trio with guitarist Oscar Moore (later replaced by Irving Ashby) and bassist Wesley Prince (later replaced by Johnny Miller). The group specialized in swing music and their unique use of the piano and the guitar. In the 1930s and 1940s, the trio made instrumental recordings and others that featured their vocals. When Cole served as the solo singer, the group saw success in the charts with songs such as “Straighten Up and Fly Right” (1943), “Sweet Lorraine,” “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” “(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons,” and “Route 66.
Playing the piano was put on hold while his singing career took off. His first recording with a full orchestra turned into one of his biggest-selling records, “The Christmas Song.” After his successful record, in 1950, Cole welcomed into the world his daughter, Natalie Cole (who also went on to become a legendary singer). He was also working exclusively as a singer at this time. His popularity continued to grow, and Cole began to work with some top talents.
Cole made history when he became the first African American to host a network variety program, The Nat King Cole Show, which debuted on NBC in 1956. However, the show only lasted one season and was canceled due to racial issues of the time period. Cole was still able to find success in performing and touring despite the ending of his television show.
In 1964, Cole learned that he had lung cancer and died months later in 1965, at the age of 45, in Santa Monica, California. “L-O-V-E” was Cole’s final recording and has been featured on several film soundtracks showing the endurance of his music.