Born in 1919 in
Montgomery, Alabama, Nathaniel Adams Cole grew up in
Chicago, in a family where music was just a part of
life, like breathing. His mother, Perlina, who hoped he
would someday be a classical pianist, gave him his start
in music, teaching him the basics.
In 1938, Cole formed the Jazz group, the King Cole
Trio, with Oscar Moore on guitar and Wesley Prince on
string bass, who was later replaced by Johnny
Miller. In the days before World War II, the
trio worked for what they could get, sometimes a
week's pay of no more than $99 split three ways.
In 1943, Cole made his first sell of an original song
-- "Straighten Up and Fly Right" -- to Capitol Records
for $50. About a monkey and a buzzard, the song
became a wartime hit, and helped Cole develop strong
ties with Capitol. In 1947, Cole's destiny
became a bit more defined when he recorded the hit
"The Christmas Song."
Cole expanded the scope of his career by moving into
acting. Movies included St. Louis Blues,
in which he played fellow Alabamian W. C.
Handy, and Blue Gardinia, for which he
was paid $10,000 for a single day's work. He
last appeared in the 1964 film Cat Ballou
which co-starred Jane Fonda and Lee Marvin.
Cole's rise to fame with both white and black
audiences came at a volatile period in U.S. history, a
time when racial tensions were heightened by a strong
civil rights movement. In early 1956, Cole
returned to Alabama, to perform in an integrated show
before a segregated audience in Birmingham, but
everyone in the audience was not a fan, as Cole found
out when three men jumped on stage and attacked him in
a bizarre plot to kidnap the singer. The
attackers threw him to the floor, but Cole wasn't
seriously injured, and the men were arrested.
Race again was a factor in late 1956 when Cole became
the first black host of a national network television
show. Although critics hailed the variety show,
national sponsors shied away. In December 1957,
the network canceled the show when it failed to
sustain advertising. Cole blamed ad agencies for
seeing him as a black man, not as an entertainer who
drew in large television audiences each week.
In 1962, the single "Rambling Rose" and the album by
the same name became million-sellers, followed by two
more million-selling albums, Love Is The Thing
and Unforgettable. At the end of
his career, Cole's records had grossed some $50
million for Capitol.
Fuqua -- Music Fell On Alabama