Rockapaedia Obituaries

Nat King Cole

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Nat King Cole died aged forty-five on 15th February 1965 in a Santa Monica hospital following the surgical removal of his cancerous left of Nat King Cole
In September 1964, Nat King Cole had begun losing weight and experiencing back pain. He was appearing in a touring musical revue, Sights and Sounds, commuting to Los Angeles to film music for Cat Ballou, and becoming increasingly involved in an extramarital relationship with a 19-year-old Swedish dancer, Gunilla Hutton, which led his wife Maria to contemplate divorce. Nat King Cole collapsed with pain after performing at the Sands in Las Vegas and was finally persuaded by friends to seek medical help during December, whilst he was working in San Francisco. A malignant tumor on his left lung, in an advanced state of growth, was observed on a chest X-ray. Nat King Cole, who had been a heavy cigarette smoker, had lung cancer and it was expected that he had only months remaining to live. He carried on working, against his doctors' wishes, and made his final recordings during December 1st, 2nd and 3rd in San Francisco, with an orchestra conducted by Ralph Carmichael which was released on the album L-O-V-E shortly before his death.
Nat King Cole entered St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, California, U.S.A. on 7th December 1964 and cobalt therapy was commenced on 10th December. Frank Sinatra performed in Nat King Cole's place at the grand opening of the new Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Los Angeles Music Center on 12th December 1964. Nat King Cole's condition gradually worsened, however, he was released from the hospital over that New Year's period. At home Nat King Cole was able to view the hundreds of thousands of cards and letters that had been sent after news of his illness was made public. After returning to the hospital in early January, Nat King Cole's entire left lung was surgically removed. Throughout Nat's illness his publicists had promoted the idea that he would soon be well and working, despite the then undisclosed knowledge of his terminal condition.] On St.Valentine's Day 1965, Nat King Cole and his wife briefly left St. John's Hospital to drive by the sea. Nat died at the hospital early in the morning of February 15, 1965, aged forty-five.
Nat King Cole's funeral was held on 18th February at St. James Episcopal Church on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles U.S.A. The remains were interred in Freedom Mausoleum at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, in Glendale, California, U.S.A.

Nat King Cole was born Nathaniel Adams Coles in Montgomery, Alabama, U.S.A. on 17th March 1919. He had three brothers: Eddie , Ike , and Freddy and a half-sister, Joyce Coles. Each of the Cole brothers pursued careers in music. When Nat King Cole was four years old, the family moved to Chicago, Illinois, where his father, Edward Coles, became a Baptist minister.
Nat King Cole learned to play the organ from his mother, Perlina Coles, the church organist. His first performance was "Yes! We Have No Bananas" at the age of four. He began formal lessons at twelve learning jazz, gospel, and classical music on piano.
The Cole family moved to the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago, where Nat attended Wendell Phillips Academy High School, the school Sam Cooke attended a few years later. He participated in Walter Dyett's music program at DuSable High School. He would sneak out of the house to visit clubs, sitting outside to hear Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines and Jimmie Noone.
When he was fifteen, Nat King Cole dropped out of high school to pursue a music career. After his brother Eddie, a bassist, came home from touring with Noble Sissle, they formed a sextet and recorded two singles for Decca in 1936 as Eddie Cole's Swingsters. They performed in a revival of the musical Shuffle Along. Nat Cole went on tour with the musical. In 1937, he married Nadine Robinson, who was a member of the cast. After the show ended in Los Angeles, Nat and Nadine settled there while he looked for work. He led his own big band, then found work playing piano in nightclubs. When a club owner asked him to form a band, he hired bassist Wesley Prince and guitarist Oscar Moore. They called themselves the King Cole Swingsters after the nursery rhyme in which "Old King Cole was a merry old soul." They changed their name to the King Cole Trio before making radio transcriptions and recording for small labels.
Nat King Cole recorded "Sweet Lorraine" in 1940, and it became his first hit. According to legend, his career as a vocalist started when a drunken bar patron demanded that he sing the song. Nat said that this fabricated story sounded good, so he didn't argue with it. In fact there was a customer one night who demanded that he sing, but because it was a song Nat King Cole didn't know, he sang "Sweet Lorraine" instead. As people heard Nat Cole's vocal talent, they requested more vocal songs, and he obliged.
In 1941 the trio recorded "That Ain't Right" for Decca, followed the next year by "All for You" for Excelsior Records. They also recorded "I'm Lost", a song written by Otis René, the owner of Excelsior.
During the late 1930s the trio recorded radio transcriptions for Capitol. They performed on the radio programs Swing Soiree, Old Gold, The Chesterfield Supper Club, Kraft Music Hall, and The Orson Welles Almanac.
Nat King Cole appeared in the first Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts in 1944. He was credited on Mercury Records as "Shorty Nadine", a derivative of his wife's name, because he had been exclusive contract with Capitol Records since signing with the label the year before. He recorded with Illinois Jacquet and Lester Young.
In 1946 the trio paid to broadcast King Cole Trio Time, a fifteen-minute radio program. This was the first radio program to be sponsored by a black musician. Cole began recording and performing pop-oriented material in which he was often accompanied by a string orchestra. His stature as a popular star was cemented during this period by hits such as "All For You" (1943), "The Christmas Song", "(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66","(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons" , "There! I've Said It Again", "Nature Boy", "Frosty The Snowman", "Mona Lisa", "Orange Colored Sky", and "Too Young" a No. one song of 1951.
In November 1956, The Nat 'King' Cole Show debuted on NBC. The variety program was one of the first hosted by an African American, which created controversy at the time. Beginning as a 15-minute pops show on Monday night, the program was expanded to a half-hour in July 1957. Despite the efforts of NBC, as well as many of Nat King Cole's industry colleagues—many of whom, such as Ella Fitzgerald, Harry Belafonte, Frankie Laine, Mel Tormé, Peggy Lee, Eartha Kitt, Tony Bennett and the backing vocal group the Cheerleaders, worked for industry scale in order to help the show save money—The Nat 'King' Cole Show failed due to lack of a national sponsor. Companies such as Rheingold Beer assumed regional sponsorship of the show, but a national sponsor never appeared. The last episode of The Nat King Cole Show aired in December 1957. Nat had survived for over a year, and it was he, not NBC, who ultimately decided to end the program. Commenting on the lack of sponsorship his show received, Nat King Cole quipped shortly after its demise, "Madison Avenue is afraid of the dark."
Throughout the 1950s, Nat King Cole continued to accumulate hits, selling in millions throughout the world with "Smile", "Pretend", "A Blossom Fell", and "If I May". His pop hits were collaborations with well-known arrangers and conductors of the day, including Nelson Riddle, Gordon Jenkins, and Ralph Carmichael. Riddle arranged several of Cole's 1950s albums, including his first 10-inch long-play album, Nat King Cole Sings for Two in Love (1953). In 1955, his single "Darling, Je Vous Aime Beaucoup" reached number seven on the Billboard chart. Jenkins arranged, the album, Love Is the Thing, hitting number one on the charts in April 1957 and remaining for eight weeks, his only number one album. In 1959, he was awarded a Grammy at the 2nd Annual Grammy Awards, the category Best Performance By a "Top 40" Artist, for his recording of "Midnight Flyer".
In 1958 Nat King Cole went to Havana, Cuba, to record Cole Español, an album sung entirely in Spanish. The album was so popular in Latin America, and also in the United States, that two others of the same variety followed: A Mis Amigos (sung in Spanish and Portuguese) in 1959 and More Cole Español in 1962. A Mis Amigos contains the Venezuelan hit "Ansiedad", whose lyrics Nat learned while performing in Caracas in 1958. He learned songs in languages other than English by rote. After the change in musical tastes during the late 1950s, Nat's ballad singing did not sell well with younger listeners, despite a successful stab at rock and roll with "Send for Me", which peaked at number six on the Pop chart. Along with his contemporaries Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole found that the pop singles chart had been almost entirely taken over by youth-oriented acts. In 1960, Nat's longtime collaborator Nelson Riddle left Capitol Records for Frank Sinatra's newly formed Reprise Records. Riddle and Nat King Cole recorded one final hit album, Wild Is Love, with lyrics by Ray Rasch and Dotty Wayne. Nat later retooled the concept album into an Off-Broadway show, I'm with You.
Nat King Cole recorded some hit singles during the 1960s, including "Let There Be Love" with George Shearing in 1961, the country-flavored hit "Ramblin' Rose" in August 1962, "Dear Lonely Hearts", "That Sunday, That Summer" and "Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer" (his final top-ten hit, reaching number six on the Pop chart. He performed in many short films, sitcoms, and television shows and played W. C. Handy in the film St. Louis Blues (1958). He also appeared in The Nat King Cole Story, China Gate, and The Blue Gardenia (1953). In January 1964, Nat King Cole made one of his final television appearances, on The Jack Benny Program. He was introduced as "the best friend a song ever had" and sang "When I Fall in Love". Cat Ballou (1965), his final film, was released several months after his death.
Nat King Cole's shift to traditional pop led some jazz critics and fans to accuse him of selling out, but he never abandoned his jazz roots; as late as 1956 he recorded an all-jazz album, After Midnight, and many of his albums after this are fundamentally jazz-based, being scored for big band without strings, although the arrangements focus primarily on the vocal rather than instrumental leads. Nat King Cole had one of his last major hits in 1963, two years before his death, with "Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer", which reached number six on the Pop chart. "Unforgettable" was made famous again in 1991 by Nat's daughter Natalie when modern recording technology was used to reunite father and daughter in a duet. The duet version rose to the top of the pop charts, almost forty years after its original popularity.
Around the time Nat King Cole launched his singing career, he entered into Freemasonry. He was raised in January 1944 in the Thomas Waller Lodge No. 49 in California. The lodge was named after fellow Prince Hall mason and jazz musician Fats Waller. Nat King Cole was "an avid baseball fan", particularly of Hank Aaron. In 1968, Nelson Riddle related an incident from some years earliimage of Nat King Coleer and told of music studio engineers, searching for a source of noise, finding Nat listening to a game on a transistor radio.
Nat King Cole met his first wife, Nadine Robinson, while they were on tour for the all-black Broadway musical Shuffle Along. He was only seventeen when they married. She was the reason he landed in Los Angeles and formed the Nat King Cole trio. This marriage ended in divorce in 1948. In March 1948 , just six days after his divorce became final, Nat married the singer Maria Hawkins Ellington (she had sung with the Duke Ellington band but was not related to Duke Ellington). The Coles were married in Harlem's Abyssinian Baptist Church by Adam Clayton Powell Jr. They had five children: Natalie, who had a successful career as a singer; an adopted daughter, Carole, the daughter of Maria's sister, an adopted son, Nat Kelly Cole , and twin daughters, Casey and Timolin. Maria supported him during his final illness and stayed with him until his death.

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song: 'Unforgettable' by Nat King Cole