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Music / Nat King Cole

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"That's why, darling, it's incredible
That someone so unforgettable
Thinks that I am unforgettable, too."
— "Unforgettable"

Nat "King" Cole (born Nathaniel Adams Coles; March 17, 1919 – February 15, 1965) was a famous 20th century jazz musician. His mainstream popularity endures thanks to his unforgettable smooth, mellow vocals. However, it was his groundbreaking piano style that created a new standard for other jazz pianists, whereas his singing was relatively unimportant in the development of jazz singing. That said, several of his vocal recordings went on to become massive hits and highly-remembered standards, like "Straighten Up and Fly Right", "Route 66", "Unforgettable", "Mona Lisa", and "The Christmas Song".

He was also the first African American to host his own variety show, and one of the earlier black actors and entertainers to headline in television at all — especially without stereotypical behavior. Nat himself was a big supporter of black entertainers of the time and was close with contemporaries like Harry Belafonte and Sammy Davis Jr., and was outspoken about subjects like performing in front of segregated audiences (which he was against).


Cole had been a heavy smoker for most of his life, and it was this that would eventually do him in. After a period of illness, he got diagnosed with lung cancer in September 1964. He continued to work for some time against his doctors' wishes, wanting to finish what would turn out to be his last studio album L-O-V-E. Despite undergoing heavy treatment thereafter, Cole eventually passed away from complications from cancer in February 1965.

Cole's piano playing inspired a generation of jazz pianists, including Bud Powell, Oscar Peterson, Horace Silver, and Bill Evans.


These tropes are unforgettable, too:

  • Beast Fable: "Straighten Up and Fly Right", a song wherein a vulture abducts a monkey intending to eat him, and the monkey winds up controlling the flight.
  • Christmas Songs: He recorded quite a few of of them. Of particular note is his 1961 recording of "The Christmas Song", which continues to be one of the most-played holiday tunes on radio each December.
  • Drive-In Theater: A verse from his 1963 hit "Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days Of Summer":
    Don't hafta tell a girl and fella about a drive-in
    Or some romantic moon it seems
    Right from the moment that those lovers start arrivin'
    You'll see more kissin' (Wolf Whistle) in the cars than on the screen
  • Jazz: His genre.
  • Projected Man: One of the first late musicians to be made into a Projected Man/Virtual Ghost in a video performance, in a 1991 posthumous duet of "Unforgettable" with daughter Natalie Cole. (Though not the first, as Hank Williams Jr.'s 1988 recording of his father's "There's a Tear in My Beer" featured this in its video.)