Watch CBSN Live

Maria Cole, mother of Natalie Cole, loses battle with cancer

Singer and jazz pianist Nat "King" Cole and his wife, Maria Hawkins Cole, arrive in London on May 12, 1960. AP

(CBS/AP) BOCA RATON, Fla. - Maria Hawkins Cole, a Big Band singer, the mother of singer Natalie Cole and widow of jazz crooner Nat "King" Cole, died Tuesday in a South Florida hospice after a short battle with cancer. She was 89.

A representative of the family said Maria Cole, a jazz singer with her own career before she married, died surrounded by her family.

Her children, Natalie, Timolin and Casey Cole, said in a joint statement, "Our mom was in a class all by herself. She epitomized, class, elegance, and truly defined what it is to be a real lady. ... She died how she lived with great strength, courage and dignity, surrounded by her loving family."

According to her family, Duke Ellington heard recordings of Maria Cole singing and hired her as a vocalist with his orchestra. She stayed with him until 1946 when she began soloing at the city's Club Zanzibar as an opening act for the Mills Brothers. There she met Nat "King" Cole.

The two were married in 1948 by then-U.S. Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. at Harlem's Abyssinian Baptist Church.

Maria Cole traveled and performed with her husband throughout the '50s. After her husband died from cancer in 1965, Maria Cole created the Cole Cancer Foundation. According to The Hollywood Reporter, she also produced a James Baldwin play and sang on "The Ed Sullivan Show."

Born in Boston in 1922, she was reared by an aunt in North Carolina after her mother died in childbirth, according to a statement from the family. She later moved to New York to pursue a music career.

At the time of her death, Maria Cole lived in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. Private services will be held in Glendale, Calif.

View CBS News In