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Nat King Cole

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Nat “King” Cole (March 17th 1919–February 15th 1965) was a popular American singer and musician.

As a piano player, he formed a jazz trio in 1938 that played Los Angeles nightclubs, one of the first jazz trios featuring guitar and piano. Prior to this he had played music since he was a child and had worked with bands since he was sixteen. He was raised in Chicago and exposed to the abundant jazz scene there. He was heavily influenced by pianist Earl “Fatha” Hines.

Later he became more popularly known as a singer and crooner and his work became more orchestrated.

His first mainstream vocal hit was in 1944 with Straighten Up and Fly Right, based on a black folk tale that his father had used as a theme for a sermon. Although hardly a rocker, the song’s success proved that an audience for folk-based material existed. It is considered a predecessor to the first rock and roll records. Indeed, Bo Diddley, who performed similar transformations of folk material, counted Cole as an influence.

Beginning in the late 1940s, Cole began recording and performing more pop-oriented material for mainstream audiences, often accompanied by a string orchestra. His stature as a popular icon was cemented during this period with such hits as The Christmas Song (1946), Nature Boy (1948), Mona lisa (1950), and his signature tune Unforgettable (1951). While this shift to pop music led some jazz critics and fans to accuse Cole of selling out, he never totally abandoned his musical roots; as late as 1956, for instance, he recorded an all-jazz album, After Midnight. In 1991, Mosaic Records released the Complete Nat King Cole Trio Recordings on Capitol, which contained 349 songs on twenty-seven LPs or eighteen CDs.

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