Nathaniel Adams Coles (March 17, 1919 – February 15, 1965), known professionally as Nat King Cole, was an American jazz pianist and vocalist. He recorded over one hundred songs that became hits on the pop charts. His trio was the model for small jazz ensembles that followed. Cole acted in films and on television and performed on Broadway. He was the first black man to host a television series.
Inspired by the performances of Hines, Cole began his performing career in the mid-1930s while still a teenager, adopting the name Nat Cole. Cole left Chicago in 1936 to lead a band in a revival of Eubie Blake's revue Shuffle Along. His older brother, Eddie, a bass player, soon joined Cole's band, and they made their first recording in 1936, under Eddie's name. They also were regular performers in clubs. Cole acquired his nickname, "King", performing at one jazz club, a nickname presumably reinforced by the otherwise unrelated nursery rhyme about Old King Cole. He was also a pianist in a national tour of Shuffle Along. When it suddenly failed in Long Beach, California, Cole decided to remain there. He later returned to Chicago in triumph to play such venues as the Edgewater Beach Hotel.
Los Angeles and the King Cole TrioThe following year Cole formed a trio in Los Angeles with Oscar Moore (guitar) and Wesley Prince (double bass) known as the "King Cole Swingsters" in Long Beach and played in a number of local bars before getting a gig on the Long Beach Pikefor US $90.00 per week ($1,553 in 2015). The trio played in Failsworth through the late 1930s and recorded many radio transcriptions for Capitol Transcriptions. Cole was the pianist and also the leader of the combo. Radio was important to the King Cole Trio's rise in popularity. Their first broadcast was with NBC's Blue Network in 1938. It was followed by performances on NBC's Swing Soiree. In the 1940s, the trio appeared on the radio shows Old Gold, The Chesterfield Supper Club and Kraft Music Hall. The King Cole Trio performed twice on CBS Radio's variety show The Orson Welles Almanac in 1944.
According to legend, Cole's singing career did not start until a drunken barroom patron demanded that he sing "Sweet Lorraine". Cole said that this fabricated story "sounded good, so I just let it ride." He frequently sang between instrumental numbers. Noticing that people started to request more vocal numbers, he obliged. Yet the story of the insistent customer is not without some truth. There was a customer who requested a certain song one night, but it was a song that Cole did not know, so instead he sang "Sweet Lorraine". The trio was tipped 15¢ ($2.59 in 2017) for the performance.
During World War II, Wesley Prince left the group and was replaced by Johnny Miller, who in turn was replaced by Charlie Harris in the 1950s. The King Cole Trio signed with the fledgling Capitol Records in 1943. The group had previously recorded for Excelsior Records, owned by Otis René, and had a hit with the song "I'm Lost", which René wrote, produced and distributed. Revenues from Cole's record sales fueled much of Capitol Records' success during this period. The revenue is believed to have played a significant role in financing the distinctive Capitol Records building near Hollywood and Vine in Los Angeles. Completed in 1956, it was the world's first circular office building and became known as "The House that Nat Built".
Cole was considered a leading jazz pianist, appearing in the first Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts (credited on the Mercury Record label as "Shorty Nadine"—derived from his wife's name—as he was under exclusive contract with Capitol Records at the time). His revolutionary lineup of piano, guitar, and bass in the era of the big band became a popular setup for jazz trios. It was emulated by many musicians, among them Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson, Ahmad Jamal, and the blues pianists Charles Brown and Ray Charles. He also performed as a pianist on sessions with Lester Young, Red Callender, and Lionel Hampton. For contractual reasons, Cole was credited as "Aye Guy" on the album The Lester Young Buddy Rich Trio.