Nat King Cole, the internationally celebrated singer and pianist, made history when the television variety show bearing his name first appeared in American homes on Nov. 5, 1956. He was the first African-American man to have a television show.
It started as a 15-minute program on NBC and expanded to a half-hour in July 1957. The show was seen as controversial for giving such national exposure to an African-American artist. Many of Cole’s fellow artists, from Ella Fitzgerald and Eartha Kitt to Mel Torme and Peggy Lee, performed for union scale or even for no pay, in order to help the show to save money.
Nonetheless, the Nat King Cole Show was forever hampered by a lack of national sponsorship. There were some companies who would purchase ad time on a regional basis, however. The show continued until Dec. 17, 1959, after Cole decided to end the run on NBC. He once spoke about the lack of sponsors of his show by saying, “Madison Avenue is afraid of the dark.”
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(Photo: CBS /Landov)