Nat "King" Cole Centennial
Nat King Cole was honored on a U.S. 29¢ stamp in 1994. The singer, musician, actor, and television personality was born Nathaniel Adams Coles in Montgomery, Alabama, on March 17, 1919. He dropped the “s” off the family name and became Nat Cole as a professional musician – “King” was added to the name soon after. Cole was drawn to jazz and swing music, forming the Nat King Cole Trio with guitar and bass accompanying his piano and vocals. This year marked the centennial of his birth.
“He is credited with pioneering the sophisticated West Coast nightclub style of singing and playing ... emphasizing the piano as a solo rather than a rhythm instrument – an influence still felt today in the jazz world,” the United States Postal Service wrote in 1994 when announcing the stamp as part of the Popular Singers set in the Legends of American Music series.
Cole recorded numerous jazz and pop standards, including some that were his own compositions. Among his most successful hits were “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” “Nature Boy,” “Mona Lisa,” “Too Young,” “Route 66,” “The Christmas Song,” “When I Fall in Love,” “Smile,” and “Unforgettable.” The last song, a hit for Cole in 1951, was rereleased 40 years later, after Cole’s death, as a duet with added vocals by his daughter Natalie Cole, who was also a successful singer. She passed away in 2015.
Nat King Cole was the first African American male to host his own variety show on NBC television in 1956-57, and also appeared in films, often in a musical role.
The popular singer died at age 45 on Feb. 15, 1965, following surgery for lung cancer.
By Don Neal