Nat King Cole

Jazz Musician / Singer

Born: 17 March 1616
Died: 15 February 1965 (cancer)
Birthplace: Montgomery, Alabama
Best known as:

The singer of "Unforgettable" and "Mona Lisa"

Name at birth: Nathaniel Adams Coles

Nat King Cole was one of the first African-American pop singers, with hits in the 1940s and '50s that included "Unforgettable" and "Mona Lisa." Raised in Chicago, Cole started out as a piano player and was a bandleader while still in his teens. He recorded and toured in 1936 and 1937, then settled in Los Angeles, where he turned to performing solo. Cole formed a trio the next year and began touring, then signed a record deal with Decca. His first big crossover hit was 1943's "Straighten Up and Fly Right." The King Cole Trio recorded mostly jazz records, but they had their greatest success with songs sung by Cole, including "The Christmas Song" (known for its opening line, "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire") and "I Love You (For Sentimental Reasons)." Cole's position as an influential jazz pianist was eclipsed by his popularity as a vocalist in the 1950s; his smooth, warm delivery put him in the higher ranks of crooners, right alongside Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. He also had his own television show (1956-57) and appeared in feature films, while maintaining a run of hit records that included "Mona Lisa," "Too Young," "Ramblin' Rose," "Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer" and "L-O-V-E."

Extra credit:

Nat King Cole's daughter from his second marriage, Natalie Cole, became a singer who had a hit "duet" with her late father's recording of "Unforgettable" in 1991… Cole played W.C. Handy in the 1958 movie St. Louis Blues.

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