Is this the smoothest voice in American music history? I think you could make the case that it is. Nat is almost as popular today as he was in his prime, because everyone loves that voice. The amazing thing is that he made his name not as a singer, but as a jazz pianist. And he was great at that, too.
The King Cole Trio began performing in 1937, and was a big success in the L.A. area. Nat would sing between sets, and it wasn’t long before people were clamoring for more vocals.
His first hit record was “Straighten Up and Fly Right” in 1943. His last hit was “That Sunday, That Summer,” which happens to be one of my favorite Cole songs. In between, he hit the charts with such classics as “Mona Lisa,” “Too Young,” “The Very Thought of You,” “Smile,” “When I Fall in Love”, “A Blossom Fell,” “Ramblin’ Rose,” “Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer,” and of course the haunting “Unforgettable,” which his daughter Natalie inserted herself in and made a hit again in 1991.
If you look around the TV dial, you might happen upon broadcasts of The Nat King Cole Show from 1956-57. If you’re lucky enough to find them, you’ll see that Nat was a natural in front of the camera. The primary reason the show is memorable, though, is that it’s the first network broadcast (NBC) ever hosted by an African-American. Sadly, the series only lasted one year, largely due to lack of a sponsor willing to stand up and be identified with a black entertainer.
Oh, one more thing. It doesn’t matter what time of year it is, it’s always a good day to hear Nat’s iconic recording of Mel Torme’s “The Christmas Song”: