Recognized for his smooth baritone voice, contributions to jazz and popular music, Nat King Cole is considered one of the most influential vocalists of the 20th century.
When he was four years old, his family moved to Chicago, Illinois, where he grew up. Cole's mother recognized his musical talent at an early age and began giving him piano lessons. By the age of 12, he was already an accomplished pianist, displaying exceptional skill and musicality. By the time he was a teenager, he was performing in jazz clubs and working as a jazz pianist.
In the late 1930s, Cole formed the King Cole Trio. The trio gained popularity through their live performances and recordings, blending jazz with elements of swing and pop music.
Cole's career reached new heights in the 1950s when he signed with Capitol Records. He released numerous hit songs during this time, including "Unforgettable," "Mona Lisa," and "Nature Boy."
His velvety voice and sophisticated style appealed to a wide audience, and he became one of the first African American artists to achieve significant commercial success.
A brilliant jazz pianist and bandleader, Nat King Cole scored an astounding 150 singles across Billboard’s Pop, R&B, and Country charts. To understand just how popular and successful Cole was, it was often whispered that the mighty Capitol Records was in fact, “The House That Nat Built.”
As a popular artist, Cole broke boundaries on radio, TV, and film. His 1946 radio show, King Cole Trio Time, was the first hosted by a Black man. He also had his own television variety show, "The Nat King Cole Show," which debuted in 1956 on NBC, and ran for 42 episodes. His acting credits include such films as 1957’s China Gate, 1958’s St. Louis Blues, and Cat Ballou in 1965.
Despite facing racial discrimination and challenges throughout his life, Cole continued to make music and perform. His contributions to music and his trailblazing efforts as an African American artist opened doors for future generations of musicians.
The long shadow of Nat King Cole’s career continues to impress, with six platinum albums and the six-times platinum certified single “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire).”
He snagged the 1959 Grammy Award for Best Performance By A “Top 40” Artist for “Midnight Flyer” and four years later, he was singled out with a special achievement award from the Golden Globes. In addition to being bestowed the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) – he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as an “Early Influence” in 2000.
Amazingly, in 1991 Nat King Cole was back on the charts with his voice connecting to millions of news ears. With his now-late daughter, Natalie Cole, their virtual recording of “Unforgettable” earned three coveted statues at the 34th Annual Grammy Awards: Song Of The Year, Record Of The Year, and Best Traditional Pop Vocal Performance. Nat King Cole once again proved the best things in life not only truly last — but live on forever.