It seems like I know this man personally, although I never actually met him. Nathaniel Adams Coles was born on St. Patrick's Day* in 1919, and we were of different generations. I think one reason I might feel close to him is because my husband and I first moved south - to Ohio, then Indiana, and back to Ohio again - in the very early 60's, and I became fully aware that this country had serious racial and segregation problems.
I was taking graduate courses at Kent State University during its period of unrest. We were in Columbus, Ohio when all of the gas stations on the east side of town were closed - potential troublemakers were making gasoline 'bombs' out of coke bottles. There were nightly curfews. The church we belonged to had the word "Union" as part of its name to distinguish it from the South. One would have to be either an ostrich with its head in the sand or hibernating at this time not to be aware of what was going on.
Even all these many years later, the first thing I think of - after how lovely his songs are, that is - when I hear the name Nat King Cole is how badly he was discriminated against. Not that other black musicians were treated much better. They weren't!
I'll give you just a few examples. This first one is taken directly from Wiki ... ... In 1948, Cole purchased a house in the all-white Hancock Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. The property owner's association told Cole they did not want any undesirables moving in. Cole retorted, "Neither do I. And if I see anybody undesirable coming in here, I'll be the first to complain." The Ku Klux Klan, still active in Los Angeles well into the 1950's, responded by placing a burning cross on his front lawn.
He once was attacked onstage during a concert in Birmingham, Alabama in 1956. After that incident, he never again performed in the South. (BTW, the concert was not finished.)
That same year he was invited to do a series of concerts in Cuba, but was forced to stay at a hotel other than the one where he was performing due to a "color bar". Since then, a Nat King Cole corner tribute has been erected in the Hotel Nacional de Cuba.
Nat recorded three albums in Spanish, all of which were extremely well-received in Latin American countries. He didn't know how to speak Spanish. He learned the pronunciation for the words phonetically.
A 2006 online interview with Carole Cole, the oldest of his children and currently CEO of King Cole Partners and King Cole Productions, can be found here. In Carole's extensive interview, she says that she was sure he would have recorded many more of these if his lifespan had been extended. He wanted to try and reach out and connect with everyone!
I wonder if you remember this one? Not in Spanish, however ... ... there's a little French thrown in here.
He was the first African American, I believe, to host his own radio show. And, in 1956, he was the first such to host his own television show! That it lasted barely over a year only attests to the fact that many others - possibly with even more famous hosts of a musical variety series in that period - had succumbed to the short-term attention span of the public.
Here is one of his songs as recorded on his show in 1957. The video is in black and white, as everything was at that time. It's not my favorite - the song, I mean, but it is a wonderful example of his soft voice effortlessly singing a tune that is a whole lot easier to play on an instrument ... ...
In 1991, Natalie Cole's live recording of the two of them singing "Unforgettable" - perhaps Nat's most famous song ever - brought his name and unique singing style back to the forefront, as well as it should have been all along!
I'll never forget the first time I heard and saw this. Talk about goose bumps! Their voices blend so beautifully.
This is the 5th and last in my series on African American musicians in honor of Black History Month. I have done my very best to try and pay them the recognition they so rightly deserve, and I hope that you have gained some enjoyment - perhaps even triggering some almost-forgotten memories - from this series.
*BTW, you all should know that Sam is now 'out of the closet' and decked out in his finest St. Patrick's Day regalia. Boy, does he ever look spiffy! He is ready to take on any and all comers!! "Who's Sam?" you might well ask. Go here for the original story.