When the name of Net King Cole is mentioned, most people immediately think of the evergreen hit “Unforgettable”, and there are even more who associate Net’s deep voice and his jazz hits with the music of Frank Sinatra, Dino Martin, Tony Bennett or Harry Belafonte.
It is true that all these singing legends have a similar musical expression, but Net still differed from them in one thing. While the mentioned singers are primarily singers, it is less known that Net King Cole, above all, was a devilishly good pianist.
Namely, when he started playing music, his singing career was not even on his mind. He played the piano from an early age and although he loved different music genres, he liked jazz the most, which explains his ambitions from the beginning of his career – all he wanted was to be a jazz pianist.
If it had stayed that way, today we would probably associate his name with Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson or Dave Brubeck rather than the mentioned evergreen baritones. In this way, we can tie it to both, which is a rarity among hit singers from that time. The beauty of Col’s voice easily won millions, while his skill in playing the piano brought him respect with many picky music connoisseurs, for whom light notes are not enough.
The following is the life story of Nat King Cola, one of the most famous singers in the world of all time!
From Nathaniel to King
Net King Cole was born on March 17, 1919, under the name Nathaniel Addams Cole’s, in Montgomery, the capital of the state of Alabama. When Net was 4, his family moved to Chicago. The father became a Baptist priest in Chicago, while the mother played the organ in the church, so it is clear from when Net inherited musicality and love for the gospel.
While he was in elementary school, he learned to play the piano with his mother, and he started attending the first classes in music school when he was 12 years old. As he later pointed out several times, that formal music education broadened his musical horizons – in piano lessons he played classical, gospel and jazz with equal love.
Net founded his first band as a teenager with his brother Eddie (played double bass) in the mid-1930s. In those years, the two of them performed more and more often in Chicago jazz clubs, and in 1936, they entered the music studio for the first time, when they recorded several songs that would later be published under the name of his brother. At the same time as he started performing, Nat changed his name to Net Cole, and soon added King.
In the late 1930s, Net decided to replace windy Chicago with sunny California, and moved to Long Beach, where he formed his first band, led by King Cole Swingers, who soon changed his name to King Cole Trio.
“The building that Nat built”
From Long Beach, Cole moves to Los Angeles, where he performs with his trio in clubs and on radio stations. In addition to him who played the piano, the trio consisted of Oscar Moore on guitar and bassist Wesley Prince, who will be replaced by Johnny Miller during World War II, and later by Charlie Harris.
As most of their repertoire consisted of instrumentals, Nat began to sing between the songs and the chapel, in order to animate the often sleeping audience. Club visitors liked it and asked more and more to hear his voice. Encouraged by this, Net performed one song with about every five instrumentals, and as time passed, the number of vocal songs increased.
The golden age of Col’s career began in 1943, when his trio signed a contract with the newly established publishing house “Capitol”.
The following information speaks volumes about how much Net owed this house. Namely, as the sale of records flourished in the fifties, the premises in which this record company was located became too small to accommodate so many people from the music industry.
Thus, in 1956, a large circular building was built (otherwise the first of its kind in America). The number of records with Nat music sold in the period between 1943 and 1956 speaks volumes about the fact that this building is still nicknamed “the building built by Nat King Cole”.
Duet with 30 years of “delay”
Net’s first big hit came in 1943 with the folk song “Straighten Up and Fly Right” which sold half a million copies, making him one of the first black singers to do so. In the years to come, Cole has released a string of hits such as “Mona Lisa”, “Unforgettable”, “Too Young”, “Smile”, “When I Fall in Love” and many others.
If I were forced to single out just one of Net’s famous songs, it would be the ballad “Nature Boy” written in 1947 by Eden Ahbez. The melody is borrowed from Dvorak’s “Second Concerto for Piano Quintet”, while the lyrics are among the most sensitive in popular music. The text is about a strange and shy guy who traveled halfway around the world and picked up various knowledge, but that none can compare with the one that Net sings to us with his velvety voice in the last verses “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn / Is just to love and be loved in return”.
Younger generations probably remember the version of the song “Unforgettable” which was recorded in 1991 by Net’s daughter Natalie. The studio mixed the original Net voice, with Natalie’s voice (interestingly, this recording used Net’s version of a song from 1960, when he was 31 – the same as Natalie 1991), and a similar thing was done with the video, so we got one unusual duet of a father and daughter singing the same song 30 years apart. The album on which this version was found is one of the most successful in Natalie’s career, and in 1992 she won the “Grammy Award”.
Nat King Cole met his first wife, Nadine Robinson, while they were touring. He was only 18 when he got married. She was the reason they moved to Los Angeles in 1948 and it was then that his career took an upward trajectory. They divorced a few months later, and Porter then married Maria Hawkins. They had five children. One of them is the famous singer Natalie, who also had a great career until she died of a heart attack at the age of 65. Besides her, Nat King Cole also had an adopted daughter Carol and a son Nat Kelly Cole who passed away from AIDS at the age of 36, twins Casey and Timolin.
Maria supported and protected him when he fell ill, but also took care of his legacy in public after his death.
The notion of style
As there were many prejudices about tobacco in the 1960s (smoking was allowed in practically all places – from planes and offices to hospitals), Nat King Cole was unfortunately the victim of one of them.
He smoked three packs of cigarettes a day, primarily because he believed his voice sounded better when he was “soaked” in nicotine.
For that reason, even before recording many songs, he often lit cigarette after cigarette. Such a way of life resulted in his death on February 15, 1965, as a result of throat cancer. He was only 45 years old.
The fact that a little more than half a century has passed since his death (a period similar to the one Net spent on our planet) and that these songs are still alive, is the best indicator of the greatness of his gift.
You can say that Col’s music is pop, jazz, folk, swing, that they are hits or light notes. However, what you can’t blame her for is the quality that has lasted for decades. People charmed women by singing “Unforgettable” to them half a century ago, and those who have style still do.
I hope you liked the biography of Nat King Cola?
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