Cambridge Encyclopedia » Cambridge Encyclopedia Vol. 53

Nat King Cole - Notable Songs, Discography (Albums), Filmography

piano recording trio biography

Musician, born in Montgomery, Alabama, USA. He was raised in Chicago, where he made his recording debut in 1936 with Eddie Cole's Solid Swingers, a sextet led by his brother. He toured with a ‘Shuffle Along’ revue in 1937, then settled in Los Angeles where he played solo piano for a year. In 1939 he began recording for Decca with his original King Cole Trio, whose piano–bass-guitar instrumentation was widely copied by combos in the 1940s and 1950s. The group played in Hollywood and New York nightclubs until 1943, when it had its first national hit, ‘Straighten Up and Fly Right’, featuring solo singing by Cole. Starting with ‘The Christmas Song’ (1946), he augmented his trio with a studio orchestra and gradually reduced the prominence of his piano playing, which had been highly influential among jazz musicians. By 1950 he had become the first black male to attain mainstream acceptance as a popular singer, and he released a continual series of hit records over the remainder of his career. In 1956–7 he was the first African-American to host his own network television show, but it failed to attract a national sponsor and was not renewed. In 1958 he portrayed W C Handy in the film biography St Louis Blues, one of several motion pictures in which he appeared. A biography, Unforgettable by Leslie Course, was published in 1991.

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