Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers

February 16, 1965

What kind of a star was Nat King Cole? When the singer passed away on February 15, 1965, the Chicago Defender dedicated its front page to Cole the next day. The Defender's choice of caption, “The King Is Dead,” was fitting. When he died at 45 years of age, Cole was one of the best known entertainers in the United States. The paper also made it clear that Cole was a son of the Great Migration and a Chicagoan: The man with the golden voice, who charmed all generations was born in Montgomery, Ala. ...His family moved to Chicago when he was four. The Rev. [Edward James] Cole [Nat’s father] made his move to Chicago in 1919 and was placed in charge of the True Light Baptist Church. The family later moved to North Chicago (Waukegan). When he died, the Rev. Mr. Cole was pastor of the First Baptist Church in North Chicago. In Cole’s home there was swathed in love and devotion. There was also music. Many believe it was Nat’s mother, Cora Bell Cole, who planted the musical spark in the closely knit family. Mrs. Cole, who died in 1955, was a famous signer in her own right (click to view PDF).

Among his many accomplishments, Cole was the first African-American performer to host a variety show on network television.The Nat King Cole Show aired from 1956 to 1957, but was cancelled because the show could not secure a sustaining sponsor. In a 1958 Ebony magazine article entitled Why I Quit My TV Show,” Cole describe his frustration:

For 13 months I was the Jackie Robinson of television. I was the pioneer, the test case, the Negro first....On my show rode the hopes and tears and dreams of millions of people....Once a week for 64 consecutive weeks I went to bat for these people. I sacrificed and drove myself. I plowed part of my salary back into the show. I turned down $500,000 in dates in order to be on the scene. I did everything I could to make the show a success. And what happened? After a trailblazing year that shattered all the old bugaboos about Negroes on TV, I found myself standing there with the bat on my shoulder. The men who dictate what Americans see and hear didn't want to play ball.

Here is an episode of The Nat “King” Cole Show from October 1957, just before NBC cancelled the program:

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