In 1923, the family moved to Chicago where Cole's father was a minister at the True Light Baptist church and Cole's mother, who was a schoolteacher, was the director of the church choir. Perlina Coles gave all of her children music lessons and Cole took to the piano quickly. By the time he was a teenager, Cole could play compositions by Bach and Rachmanimoff with ease, even though his mother was the only piano teacher he ever had.
At church services, Cole played the organ, and during high school, he put together a jazz band at the same time he was a member of his brother Eddie's band. In 1936, Cole toured the country playing the piano. He met and then married dancer Nadine Robinson who was also a part of the tour. When the show closed, however, the couple was left stranded in Los Angeles, an opportunity for Cole to perform as a solo artist.
It was around the time when Cole was performing at a local nightclub that the owner persuaded him to wear a paper crown and gave him the name Nat King Cole. In 1937, Cole and his newly acquired band, the King Cole Trio, made its first recording of "Sweet Lorraine" with Capital Records, a decision that secured the group as an instant hit. In 1941, the King Cole trio went on tour and recorded its first hit song, "Straighten up and Fly Right" in 1943. The 1940s continued to bring success to Cole and his band with songs such as "Get your kicks on route 66," "The Christmas Song" and "Nature Boy." Not only did the band have popular songs, but it also appeared in movies for as much as $13,000 for working only a few days. The trio even performed at the Kraft Music and Carnegie Halls.
Cole crossed over to pop charts when he recorded "Mona Lisa" in 1949 and sold more than three million copies, causing him to become a prominent black artist. In the same year, the Cole trio went on tour in Europe, by which time Cole had already sold upwards of 50 million copies of the record worldwide. Capital Records was later deemed the "house that Nat built."
Even though Cole experienced global success, he still experienced racism. In 1948, Cole fought to keep his home in Los Angeles when his mostly white neighbors tried to force his family out. He also suffered back injuries in 1956 while performing in Alabama when six men attacked him for no reason. Cole experienced additional hardship when his first wife divorced him in 1946. However, he re-married in 1948 to Marie Ellington, and together, they had three children.
Cole died of lung cancer on Feb. 15, 1965 at the age of 47.
Information has been compiled from Biography.com.
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