Nat King Cole Biography

(Singer and Jazz Pianist Best Known His Soft Baritone Voice)

Birthday: March 17, 1919 (Pisces)

Born In: Montgomery, Alabama, United States

The first African-American performer to host a variety TV show, Nat King Cole remains to be one of the most memorable voices in the music history of America. He was a pianist, singer, and head of the band, ‘King Cole Trio’. He first gained fame as a jazz pianist and was known for his trademark soft, and baritone voice. He enjoyed an immensely successful solo career and his singles went on to peak the music charts. A prodigious child, he began learning to play the piano at the age of four and got formal training in music when he was 12. At the age of 15, he dropped out of school to pursue a career in the music industry. During his lifetime he encountered many instances of racism, especially during his professional tours and in one instance he was even attacked by a white supremacist group. In spite of facing criticism for not doing enough for the Civil Rights Movement, Cole strongly maintained his stand that he was more of a performer than an activist. He created controversy when he hosted the TV variety series, ‘The Nat King Cole Show’.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Nathaniel Adams Coles

Died At Age: 45


Spouse/Ex-: Maria Hawkins Ellington, Nadine Robinson

father: Rev. Edward James Coles Sr.

mother: Perlina Adams Coles

siblings: Eddie, Freddy, Ike

children: Carole Cole, Casey Cole, Nat Kelly Cole, Natalie Cole, Timolin Cole

Born Country: United States

African American Men Pianists

Died on: February 15, 1965

place of death: Santa Monica, California, United States

Ancestry: Indian American

Cause of Death: Lung Cancer

U.S. State: Alabama, African-American From Alabama

City: Montgomery, Alabama

Childhood & Early Life

Nat King Cole was born Nathaniel Adams Coles on March 17, 1919, in Montgomery, Alabama, to Edward Coles and Perlina Coles. He had three brothers and a half-sister.

He began taking piano lessons from the time he was four years old. His mother was his first instructor and he was soon guided by a church choir director.

At the age of 12, he started taking formal music lessons. He was taught jazz, western classical music, and gospel music. He would often sneak out of the home to listen to artists at various clubs in Chicago.

At 15, he dropped out of school in order to pursue a career as a jazz pianist. For a brief period of time, he worked with his brother, Eddie, who helped him bag his first opportunity in recording in 1936.

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He performed on the national tour of the musical revue, ‘Shuffle Along’, in which he played the piano. In 1937, he started working on what would later become the music group, ‘King Cole Trio’.

As a member of the ‘King Cole Trio,’ he went on various tours. In 1943, the group tasted breakthrough success with ‘That Ain't Right’, which was also written by him.

Later in 1943, the ‘King Cole Trio’ gained mainstream success with the song, ‘Straighten Up and Fly Right’. Written by him, the song was inspired by one of his father’s sermons.

‘King Cole Trio’ continued to enjoy success and topped the music charts with many pop singles and holiday classics. 'The Christmas Song' and '(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons' were popular hits.

During the 1950s, he went on to pursue a career as a solo artist and soon became a successful one. He earned many hits like 'Unforgettable', 'Too Young’, 'Mona Lisa' and 'Nature Boy'.

He soon managed to work with some of the biggest names in music like Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, and Nelson Riddle. He also became friends with popular crooner Frank Sinatra.

He often faced racism when he toured in the South. In 1956, while he was performing in Alabama in a mixed-race concert, he was attacked by a group of white supremacists.

He was often criticized for not taking a stand on racism-related issues but he always expressed that he was more of a performer and not an activist. He also struggled to find his way in the Civil Rights Movement.

In 1956, he hosted the NBC show, ‘The Nat King Cole Show’. With this, he became the first African-American to host a variety series on television.

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In 1957, after ‘The Nat King Cole Show’ went off-air, he was seen on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show' and 'The Garry Moore Show'. He was also seen in the drama 'Istanbul'.

In the late 1950s, his career in the record charts took a downward spiral. However, luckily, this did not continue for a very long time, as from the early half of the next decade his career took a good turn again.

In 1962, he topped the charts once again with the country-influenced hit song, ‘Rambin' Rose’. The next year, he won hearts with the light-hearted 'Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer'.

In 1964, he made his last appearance on the music charts and achieved moderate success with the ballads, 'I Don't Want to Hurt Anymore' and 'I Don't Want to See Tomorrow'.

Major Works

The song ‘Straighten Up and Fly Right’ is one of the most popular songs of the group, ‘King Cole Trio’. It peaked at the number one position on the Harlem Hit Parade and the Most Played Jukebox Hillbilly Records.

Awards & Achievements

In 1963, he received the Golden Globe Special Award.

Personal Life & Legacy

His first marriage to Nadine Robinson ended in 1948. Just six days after their divorce, he married Maria Hawkins Ellington. The couple had five children.

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Around 1964, he was diagnosed with lung cancer. He died on February 15, 1965.

He was a Freemason.

He had an extra-marital affair with actress Gunilla Hutton, with whom he eventually lived.

His posthumous release, ‘L-O-V-E’ went on to become a major hit.

He was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame and the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame.

He was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He was also inducted into the Jazz Hall of Fame and the Hit Parade Hall of Fame.

In 1994, the US Postal Department issued a stamp featuring him.

In 2000, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as ‘one of the major influences on early rock and roll’.

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He was the first African-American singer and musician to have his own TV show "The Nat King Cole Show".

In 2022, his recording of “The Christmas Song” reached number 9 on the Billboard Hot 100. This was 62 years after the song’s debut on the chart. It was also selected for preservation in the United States National Recording Registry.


Grammy Awards
1997 Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals Winner
1997 Best Instrumental Arrangement with Accompanying Vocal(s) Winner
1993 Best Historical Album Winner
1992 Best Traditional Pop Performance Winner
1992 Song of the Year Winner
1992 Record of the Year Winner
1990 Lifetime Achievement Award Winner
1960 Best Performance By A "Top 40" Artist Winner
1959 Best Performance by a "Top 40" Artist Winner
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