Est. 1997

(1919 - 1965)

(born March 17, 1919, Montgomery, Alabama; 
died February 15, 1965, Santa Monica. California)

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.

Christopher S. Fuqua -- Music Fell On Alabama

By Carl P. McConnell

Mabel McConnell talks about the Carter Family, Doc & Carl,
The Original Virginia Boys and the early days of radio.