Jazz pianist and television personality Nat King Cole was born in Montgomery, Alabama, on March 17, 1919.
He was born Nathaniel Adams Coles, the son of Edward Coles, a Baptist minister, and Perlina Coles, a church organist. His mother introduced him to music at a young age and he eventually excelled in jazz, gospel and western classical styles of music. He adopted the stage name "Nat Cole" and earned the nickname "King" while playing in jazz clubs in the 1930s.
Cole continued to travel and perform throughout the '30s, forming a pop group the King Cole Trio in 1937. Also a talented vocalist, Cole's soft, baritone voice helped propel the group to the top of the charts with singles including "That Ain't Right" (1942) and "The Christmas Song" (1946). As a solo performer, Cole scored hit singles including "Mona Lisa" (1950) and "Nature Boy" (1948) and collaborated with musical greats like Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald.
Cole was also the first African-American to host his own show on a major network. The Nat King Cole Show debuted in November 1956 on NBC and aired until December 1957. He also appeared in a variety of television shows in movies. An advocate for civil rights, he consulted with President John F. Kennedy and President Lyndon B. Johnson on civil rights issues.
He had five children, including daughter Natalie, who went on to have her own successful career in music. A longtime smoker, Cole was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1964 and died from complications from lung surgery on Feb. 15, 1965. He was 45.
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