In Memory of Nat King Cole


Nathaniel Coles shortened his name to Nat Cole, and, according to one story, after a club performance with his trio, a young woman crowned him the “King.”

Recently, we celebrated the anniversary of Nat King Cole’s death – it’s been almost 50 years since the iconic singer passed away from lung cancer. But the musician, who first became famous as a jazz pianist, still lives in his remarkable music and songs.

Nathaniel Adams Coles was born on March 17, 1919 in Montgomery, Alabama. His father was a minister, and when Cole was only two years old, he moved his family to Chicago, in search of a better life. Cole learned to play the piano at four years old, with the help of his mother, a choir director in the church. At 15, he dropped out of school to pursue a career as a jazz pianist. But it wasn’t long before Cole’s smooth voice outdid his skillful playing.

In 1937, Cole put together the “King Cole Trio” and in 1943 they recorded “Straighten Up And Fly Right,” inspired by one of his father’s sermons about a black folk tale. It was an instant hit, and the trio continued their rise to the top with hits including “The Christmas Song” and “(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons.” By the 1950′s, Cole emerged as a popular solo performer with his like “Nature Boy,” “Mona Lisa,” and “Unforgettable.”

Despite his talent and fame, Cole was not impervious to racism: in 1956, while touring in the South, he was attacked on stage in Birmingham, Alabama during a mixed race performance. And when he bought a house in Beverly Hills, he learned that an “undesirable neighbors committee” had been formed. There were even times when Cole couldn’t sleep at the hotels where he performed – instead he would stay at a local motel. Even in the late 1950′s when Cole had his own TV show on NBC, he was forced off the air when the show could not find him a national sponsor.

Perhaps smoking was an outlet for the stress that must have enveloped him. But in 1964, Cole was diagnosed with lung cancer, and just a year later, at the young age of 45, he died of the disease.

But 48 years since his death, he lives on in his style, his playing, and his voice.

* Based on a post on eFuneral.com - a website that provides helpful information and support to those caring for a sick loved one, thinking about end-of-life, or grieving a loss.