Almanac: Nat King Cole

Nat King Cole, the singer with an "unforgettable" voice, was born on March 17, 1919.

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Last Updated Mar 17, 2019 4:52 PM EDT

On March 17, 1919, the world gained a singer with an "unforgettable" voice, when Nathaniel Adams Coles – Nat King Cole – was born in Montgomery, Alabama.

The son of a Baptist pastor, by age four he was learning piano from his mother, who directed the church choir. By age 15 Cole quit school to play jazz full-time. 

At first, he was just behind the piano. But once audiences heard that silky-smooth baritone, they understandably wanted more.

Nat King Cole sings "Straighten Up and Fly Right":

Nat King Cole & The King Cole Trio - Straighten Up And Fly Right by Zoe Healy on YouTube

Cole had his first Top 10 hit in 1944 ("Straighten Up and Fly Right"), and would quickly become one of the most popular performers of his time.

Nat King Cole sings "Mona Lisa":  

Mona Lisa by Nat King Cole - Topic on YouTube

Though criticized early on for not being a vocal civil rights activist, Cole broke barriers as the first African American host of a nationally broadcast TV series, in 1956.

Nat King Cole sings "Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer" on British television in 1963:  

Those Lazy Hazy Crazy Days Of Summer - Nat King Cole (LIVE) by Stage Film Television on YouTube

Often seen with a cigarette in his hand, Cole died from lung cancer in 1965. He was just 45.

But in 1991, he sprang back to life through film and audio wizardry, to sing a chart-topping duet with his daughter, Natalie (who died in 2015) … proof that while Nat King Cole is long gone, his voice will forever remain unforgettable.

Natalie Cole and Nat King Cole duet on "Unforgettable":  

Natalie Cole LIVE - Unforgettable by car2929 on YouTube

EDITOR'S NOTE: Hazel Dorothy Scott, a jazz and classical pianist born in Trinidad, appeared in several films before headlining "The Hazel Dorothy Scott Show" on the Dumont Television Network, which premiered on July 3, 1950 and ran until September of that year. But that show was not broadcast nationwide. No episodes are believed to survive.  

        
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Story produced by Trey Sherman.