The Story of Nat King Cole

- A Project by Amy Noble -

"The greatest thing you'll ever learn

is just to love, and be loved in return"

from the song "Nature Boy"


Nat's Family

His Childhood

His Early Career

Later Career

Movies and TV

Marriage and Children

Career Cut Short



Song's Nat Sang


Nat King Cole was a black man, who became a very famous jazz pianist and singer. His music is still enjoyed today especially because his daughter Natalie has re-released his wonderful music.

Nat's Family

Nat's father was the Reverend Edward James Coles Snr. His mother's name was Perlina Adams Coles. Together they had thirteen children, but only five of them lived to adulthood. When Nat was about four years old, his family moved from Montgomery in the south of the United States, to Chicago in the north, where Nat's father became the minister of his own church.

Nat's mother knew that her children would go to public schools with facilities rarely enjoyed by negroes in the south.

Nat's Birthday ?

Nat's birthday was on the 17th of March (which is St Patrick's Day), but it is hard to say which year he was born in. Nat used three different dates himself on official documents. These are 1915, 1916 and 1919. Other dates used are 1912 and 1917.

His Childhood

Nat learned to play the piano when he was very young. It may be hard to believe but his mother was the only piano teacher that he ever had.

His first public performance was at the age of four and when he was in Kindergarten he played for the other children.

Nat regularly played in his father's church from the age of 11 and was an accomplished pianist by the age of 12. He formed his first jazz band when he was in high school .

One day Nat asked if their family was poor. His mother answered "Yes". Then he asked "Are we poor, poor, poor". This time she answered "Yes we are". Then Nat said a very strange thing - "One day my name will be up in lights and we wont be poor any more". It's surprising but what Nat said came true.

His Early Career

Nat's early career was mainly piano playing. Nat played a lot in a trio with one of his brothers. The trio did not have a drummer because Nat's piano playing kept rhythm so well. By the time Nat was 20 his music was known in every beer joint in L.A.

One night Nat was playing in a pub and one of his listeners asked him to sing. Nat didn't want to until his boss said he'd better, so he did.

Later Career

Nat then became a well known singer. Nat sold over 50 million records and believe me that's a lot! He was one of the first people to make records with the company called "Capitol Records". He sold so many records, that the company headquarters was often referred to as "The House that Nat Built"

He did a lot of work to make things better for black people by refusing to play at places that wouldn't let black people in, or making them change their rules before he would play there. In his early days of touring Nat and his band were often not allowed to stay at the places they played at.

When he started to earn more money, he bought a house in a very expensive area of Los Angeles. Some of the people who already lived there protested and said they didn't want any undesirables moving in. Nat said that he didn't either and would be the first to complain if any did move in.

One time when he was playing at a concert in his home state of Alabama, some men tried to kidnap him from off the stage because they were so angry about a black man being allowed to put on a concert.

He became so famous however that he was invited to places by President Kennedy. In fact President Kennedy even went to Natalie Cole's debutante ball!

Movies and TV

Nat was the first black man to have his own radio show and later his own T.V show.

In 1946, Nat started doing a radio show every week. He would play for half an hour on Saturday afternoon, from whatever town he was doing concerts in. The radio show lasted for 4 years.

In October 1956, Nat started his own TV show. It was probably the first serious attempt by a TV station to have a Negro as a show's host. It was very popular but businesses were afraid that white southern audiences would stop buying their products if they advertised during the show.

Nat also appeared in quite a few movies. The best known of these is St Louis Blues in which he played the role of the jazz composer W.C. Handy. He also appeared in a film about himself called The Nat King Cole Story.

He appeared in lots of other movies just to sing a song.

Marriage and Children

First Marriage

Nat first married Nadine Robinson in 1936 when they were on the road together doing a show called "Shuffle Along". Nadine was a dancer in the show.

Second Marriage

Nats second marrige was to Maria Ellington. They met in 1946 and married on the 28 of March 1948 (during the Easter season). Maria was a singer. She was not related to Duke Ellington, although she sang in his band for a while. [Some years after Nat's death, she put together a show of her own which premiered in Australia.]

Maria and Nat were not on speaking terms just before the wedding ceremony, because Nat had been so carried away with a bachelor party the previous night that he had failed to turn up for a wedding rehearsal date.


Nat only had children in his second marriage with Maria. Their first child was Natalie Maria, who was born on the 6/2/1950. She was born a few months before the record of "Mona Lisa" was released. She was more often known in the family by her nickname "Sweetie".

A few years later they adopted Carol, who was born on the 17/10/1944. She was Maria's sister's daughter. She was adopted by Nat and Maria after both of Carol's parents had died.

In 1959 Nat and Maria adopted a son who they called Nat Kelly Cole. They thought that they would never have any more children of their own.

However on the 26/9/61 Maria gave birth to twin girls. Their names were Timolin and Casey. Casey was named after baseball celebrity Casey Stengel (Nat was a mad sports fan!) and the other name was suggested by a good songwriter friend.

Career Cut Short

Nat died in 1965. He died of lung cancer because he used three packets of cigarettes every day for many years.

After that his music still was very popular and lots more records were sold.

Recently, his daughter Natalie started singing his music again and it became even more popular.

[To read more about Natalie you can go to the heading Unforgettable or Marriage and Children.]


Nat's daughter Natalie liked singing also and started singing in front of little groups, then probably little towns and now she is well known in most town's. Natalie won a Grammy award for the recording of her and Nat singing a duet of the song Unforgettable.

That is one of the main reasons Nat is Unforgettable. Another reason he is Unforgettable is that company's keep producing records, tapes and some video's.


1919 The year most people say Nat was born.
1931 By the age of 12 Nat was an accomplished pianist.
1934 Nat formed his first jazz band in high school.
1936 Married his first wife, Nadine Robinson
1937 By this year, Nat said he had played piano in what he later remembered as every beer joint in Los Angeles
1939 Formed the King Cole Trio.
1946 Met his second wife - Maria.
Started his weekly radio show
1948 Nature Boy becomes a big hit.
Married Maria.
1950 Natalie Cole was born.
1951 Now a famous vocalist and known as "The man with the velvet voice".
1956 Nat started his own TV show.
1959 Nat and Maria adopted their son - Kelly
1961 The twins were born - Casey and Timolin.
1965 Nat died of lung cancer on the 15th of February.

Song's Nat Sang

Some of the songs Nat King Cole is most famous for are:



Cole. Maria (with Louie Robinson) Nat King Cole, An Intimate Biography, W. H. Allen, London and New York, 1972

Gourse. Leslie Unforgettable - The Life and Mystique of Nat King Cole, New English Library, 1991

Stroff. Stephen M. Discovering Great Jazz, New Market Press, New York, 1991

World Book Encyclopaedia, 1992


Alabama Music Hall of Fame:

Britannica Online:

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