Nathaniel Adams Cole was an American jazz pianist and vocalist. He recorded over one hundred songs that became hits on the pop charts. His trio was the model for small jazz ensembles that followed. Take a look below for 30 more fun and interesting facts about Nat King Cole.
1. Cole acted in films and on television and performed on Broadway.
2. He was the first black man to host an American television series.
3. Cole was born in Montgomery, Alabama, on March 17, 1919.
4. He had three brothers: Eddie, Ike and Freddy, and a half-sister, Joyce Cole.
5. Each of the Cole brothers pursued careers in music.
6. When Cole was four years old, the family moved to Chicago, Illinois, where his father, Edward Cole, became a Baptism minister.
7. Cole learned to play the organ from his mother, Perlina Cole, the church organist.
8. His first performance was “Yes! We Have No Bananas” at the age of four.
9. He began formal lessons at the age of 12, learning jazz, gospel, and classical music on piano from Johann Sebastian Bach to Sergei Rachmaninoff.
10. The Cole family moved to the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago, where he attended Wendell Philips Academy High School, the school Sam Cooke attended a few years later.
11. He participated in Walter Dyett’s music program at DuSable High School.
12. He would sneak out of the house to visit clubs, sitting outside to hear Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines and Jimmie Noone.
13. His passion for the free form style that jazz music presented was influential and at 15, Cole quit school to pursue a career as a jazz pianist.
14. His first professional experience as a musician came when he was asked to join the jazz style revival show “Shuffle Along.” When the touring show folded in Los Angeles, Cole began working at a night club called the Century Club.
15. It was during his time at the Century Club that one of the club’s managers began referring to him as “King” Cole.
16. At the age of 20, Cole started a jazz trio with two musician friends, Oscar Moore and Wesley Prince. The trio produced a unique sound with the absence of a drummer and was made up of only three instruments, piano, rhythm guitar and bass.
17. Cole soon became the recognized leader when he added vocals to the group’s instrumental music.
18. Now known as the King Cole Trio, they found their first success with the song “Straighten Up and Fly Right”, which was released by Capitol Records.
19. “Straight Up and Fly Right” was co-written by Cole and was based on a sermon that he had heard his father give when he was a child. It became a hit and launched Cole’s career as a popular singer around the country.
20. In 1946, Cole released “The Christmas Song” and showcased the soft, melodic side of his vocal abilities that were rarely heard before that point.
21. “The Christmas Song” became a seasonal hit for Cole and began his transition from a jazz musician and front man to solo artist.
22. Cole’s release of the song “Mong Lisa” in 1950 became his first number 1 hit even though he didn’t care for the song and was opposed to releasing it as a single.
23. In 1951, Cole released his signature song “Unforgettable” and it reached number 12 on the popular music charts.
24. His daughter, Natalie, re-released “Unforgettable” as a duet 40 years later. Natalie’s version featured her father’s original vocals from the 1951 release along with her own voice overdubbed into the song so that it could be produced into a new duet.
25. In 1956, he became the first black man in American television history to host his own show: The Nat “King” Cole Show.
26. In 1957, Cole appeared in the motion picture “China Gate”.
27. He sang “Three Coins in a Fountain” for the movie’s opening credits.
28. He was paid $5,000 for acting in “China Gate” and $75,000 for the opening song.
29. Throughout his life, Cole faced adversity and inequality as a black performer in the entertainment industry. When he performed on television, his face was lightened with make-up to reduce the dark color of his skin.
30. He vowed to never return to the American south after being attacked while on stage in Birmingham, Alabama, and he never did.