Tomorrow marks the 46th anniversary of the passing of one of America’s all-time great singers and performers: Nat King Cole. Nat King Cole was a favorite of The Ed Sullivan Show appearing 13 times during the show’s 23-year run. During that time he also became a close personal friend to Ed Sullivan.
With February being Black History month, I think it is important to mention the significance Nat King Cole played in paving the way for African American performers in this country. He is an example of success in the face of adversity.
Cole faced racism his whole life and even as a popular performer was sometimes assaulted on stage. However, he refused to allow anything or anybody prevent him from doing what he loved. With the success of his 1943 hit “Straighten Up And Fly Right” Cole became a pop sensation. With the rise of television Nat King Cole became a variety show fixture appearing on shows like Ed Sullivan’s Toast of the Town. For much of America, this was the first television exposure to an African American artist. Cole’s likeable style, deep baritone voice and melodic tones transformed him into a star and revolutionized the way African-Americans were seen on television.
Cole was also the first African- American in the history of television to host a network variety series. He attracted a constellation of major black singers and musicians as guests, including Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Sammy Davis Jr. and Cab Calloway. Unfortunately due to the ignorance of advertisers the star-studded show lacked sponsorship and was taken off the air after only a year. Cole famously commented after the show’s end, “Madison Avenue is afraid of the dark.” This Tuesday the groundbreaking “The Nat King Cole Show” is actually getting a digital release on iTunes more than 50 years after it aired.
This ground breaking American icon’s impact continues to cross the world’s cultural and political boundaries. Nat King Cole was a fine artist and an even finer human being. He truly was “a King who had not lost the common touch.”