When you think about the great popular male singers of the 1940's and 1950's, a handful of names come to mind.
Sinatra, Como, Martin, Bennett . . . and Nat `King' Cole.
Starting out in the mid 1930's as a jazz pianist with his older brother, Edward, the world first heard Nat playing on 4 Decca sides recorded with Eddie Cole's Solid Swingers.
In 1937 Cole formed his own trio with Wesley Prince on bass and electric guitarist Oscar Moore. Johnny Miller would eventually replace Prince on Bass, and in 1947, Irving Ashby would replace Moore.
Their big break came when they accompanied Lionel Hampton for two recording dates in 1940. Late in the year, they inked a recording deal with Decca.
In 1943 the King Cole Trio would hit it big with a Capitol Records recording of Straighten Up and Fly Right!
More hits would follow, including Get Your Kicks (On Route 66) in 1946, Nature Boy (1948), Mona Lisa (1950), Too Young (the #1 song in 1951) and his signature tune "Unforgettable" (1951).
During the late 1940's Nat Cole is a regular on the Chesterfield Supper Club radio show.
By the 1950's Nat Cole was performing mostly as a single. Below is one of his best songs, Stardust.
The Nat King Cole Show debuted on November 5, 1956, NBC-TV.
He was not, as has often been cited, the first African-American to host a network TV show. That distinction belongs to Hazel Scott, who had a very short-lived show on the DuMont Network in 1950.
The show ran for 64 episodes, but it came at a time when few sponsors were willing to affiliate themselves with a black entertainer for fear of alienating a southern audience. The show never did attract a national sponsor, and NBC often had to carry the show without advertising revenue.
Ratings for the show were only fair. Rock & Roll was sweeping the land and singers of ballads, regardless of their race or talent, were having a hard time drawing an audience.
A little more than a year after it began, the Nat King Cole show was history. While it lasted, it was a wonderful showcase for some of the most talented singers and performers of the day.
Here are four classic episodes of the Nat King Cole show. Get they while they last. The site where I found them, GUBA, had a lot more of them a few months ago. I'm not sure why they are removing them.
While musical tastes were changing Cole managed to turn out a few more hits until his death in 1965 including "Ramblin' Rose" in "Dear Lonely Hearts," "Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days Of Summer" (his final hit, reaching #6 pop), and "That Sunday, That Summer".
Nat King Cole died of lung cancer (he was a heavy smoker) on February 15, 1965. He was 44.
He leaves a tremendous legacy, however, in his recordings and his TV and radio appearances.