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BHM Op-Ed: Nat ‘King’ Cole

Nathaniel Adams Cole (Nat ‘King’ Cole), is an important figure in America throughout the “swing” era, he is known for his talent in vocalizing and piano playing. Nat ‘King’ Cole’s prominence in the world has proven to be influential and inspiring for many people during and after his life.

Nat ‘King’ Cole was born on March 17th, 1919 in Alabama, and died on February 15th, 1965 in California due to lung cancer at age 45. His passion for jazz music began when he was 12 years old playing piano in his local church where his father was the pastor. From there, his passion for jazz grew as he later formed a jazz group called “The Royal Dukes” at age 17. After gaining recognition, Cole began to play in jazz clubs in Los Angeles as a member of “The King Cole Trio”.

Courtesy of NPR Music

“The King Cole Trio” had a very significant and unique sound to their music but none of the members had much success until Cole pursued a solo career in the late 1930s where his first song, “Straighten Up and Fly Right”, became a hit. Other new hits of his included “[I Love You] For Sentimental Reasons”, “Route 66”, and “It’s Only a Paper Moon”. Cole then began to dedicate himself to his singing career, leaving his piano playing behind and focusing more on his vocals. In 1946, he sang “The Christmas Song” with an orchestra that became a big selling record, furthering his success. This later led him to release hits like “Unforgettable” and “Too Young”, occasionally revisiting his jazz roots with albums like “After Midnight” in 1956.

Courtesy of Nora Melcher

Cole’s success isn’t limited to releasing music that made him widely recognized, however. He has been recognized as, and is still, one of the best male vocalists of all time along with other vocalists like Frank Sinatra and Sam Cooke. His talents weren’t limited to music, in fact, Nat ‘King’ Cole was a humorous stage personality and actor, performing in films like “Night of the Quarter Moon” in 1959. Another success of Cole’s was having his own network variety program called, “The Nat ‘King’ Cole Show” which debuted on NBC television in 1956. But, the show was canceled after one season since the racism of the era didn’t like the idea of an African American man being the host of a show.

Courtesy of Indiana Public Media

Nat ‘King’ Cole’s life has touched many people, including those in the Camas community.

CHS Sophomore Aynsley Bjorge said, “I use music as a way for me to let go and calm down, and I love Nat ‘King’ Cole and his music because it helps me do exactly that.”

For Bjorge, Cole’s music has inspired her to be more composed.

It is also astounding that Cole was able to be so successful and perform for so many people despite the times that he was living in as a black man.

Camas resident Ben Melcher said, “I have respect for his entertaining nature at a time when black men were not respected. He didn’t complain, he just did what made him happy.”

Nat ‘King’ Cole’s life has meant more to many than just making enjoyable music, he has helped others to realize what is possible.

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