Nat King Cole Day

March 17, 1919 – February 15, 1965

 

A tribute to the swing pianist and popular singer

Pianist and singer Nathaniel Adams Coles (“Nat King Cole”) was born on March 17, 1919 in Montgomery, Alabama.

Nat Cole (he changed his last name from Coles early in his career) was raised in Chicago, was influenced as a pianist by Earl Hines, and led the Royal Dukes in 1934 when he was 15; he made his recording debut with his older brother bassist Eddie Coles in 1936.

Cole left Chicago in 1937 to tour with a revival of the show Shuffle Along, a production that broke up in Los Angeles.

Stranded in L.A., Cole soon picked up work in nightclubs, decided to stay, and formed a trio with guitarist Oscar Moore and bassist Wesley Prince which by 1940 was causing a stir.

The King Cole Trio, which featured instrumentals, group vocals and occasional solo singing from the pianist, recorded for Decca (having a minor hit with “Sweet Lorraine”) and then became a national act after singing with Capitol in 1943.

They recorded prolifically and had such hits as “Straighten Up And Fly Right,” “Nature Boy,” “Route 66,” Mel Torme’s “The Christmas Song” and Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life.”

As the 1940s progressed, Cole’s vocals became very popular and the group (now with guitarist Irving Ashby, bassist Johnny Miller and, by 1949, Jack Costanzo on bongos) began to play a secondary role behind his singing.

After his 1950 recording of “Mona Lisa” with a string orchestra, Nat King Cole’s career changed and he became a pop star, a crooner who took warm vocals and occasionally played piano.

During 1950-64, Cole had a continuous string of vocal hits including “Unforgettable,” “Smile,” “(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons,” “Too Young,” “Walkin’ My Baby Back Home,” “Send For Me,” “When I Fall In Love,” “Pretend,” “Answer Me, My Love,” and finally “L-O-V-E”; he also hosted a notable television series in 1957.

Tragically his life and career were cut short in 1965 when he passed away from lung cancer when he was only 47.

Here is Nat King Cole in 1950 singing and playing “Nature Boy.”

Personnel:

Nat King Cole, vocals, piano
Irving Ashby, guitar
Johnny Miller, bass

-Scott Yanow