Dr. Daniel Jones
Pre-Rock Era Project: Nat King Cole
There is no questioning Nat King Cole’s place as one of the most influential and important American popular musicians in history. Although he was initially known as an innovative and skilled jazz pianist, his singing allowed him to become highly successful in the realm of popular music, more specifically in the big band and jazz genres. Nathaniel Adams Coles was born in Montgomery, Alabama on March 17, 1919 (Ruhlmann par. 3). His family moved to Chicago in 1921, where he began to play the piano at age four and took classical lessons at age 12 (Ruhlmann par. 4). When he was 15, Cole dropped out of high school in order to pursue a career as a jazz pianist (Ruhlmann par. 4). In 1937, Cole formed the King Cole Trio and began doing live performances and occasional recordings for small labels as well as some radio work. After releasing successful singles such as “That Ain’t Right” and “All for You,” the King Cole Trio was signed by Capitol Records in 1942 (Teachout par. 15). Cole began to utilize his voice increasingly, and critics began to notice the King Cole Trio’s increasing tendency to emphasize popular music as early as 1945 (Teachout par. 20). In 1951, Cole officially disbanded the King Cole Trio and continued his successful career as more of a standup singer than as a pianist (Teachout par. 25). Cole continues to sell great quantities of music today. However, despite his popularity, Cole has often been the subject of criticism. Many criticize Nat King Cole for compromising his artistic integrity as a jazz musician in order to achieve commercial success. Some even consider his increasing popularity and shifting musical style to be “betrayal” (Ruhlmann par. 1). One article from NPR music argues that Cole’s “singing clearly betrayed his jazz sensibilities,” while another even goes as far as to call Cole a “failed jazzman” (NPR par. 5, Teachout par. 5). Contrary to these...