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The Music Diaries | Nat King Cole - The king of romantic ballads

Published:Thursday | November 15, 2018 | 12:00 AMRoy Black
Nat King Cole

On a recent Junior Schools' Challenge quiz show, a student was asked what genre of music Nat King Cole was best known for. The answer given was 'classical', but, was ruled incorrect by the quiz master, who gave the answer as 'jazz'. The answers may very well prove to be a topic for debate, although most musicologists and music aficionados tend to agree that Cole was best known for his romantic ballads. They were best demonstrated in recordings like Mona Lisa, Unforgettable, When I Fall In Love, A Blossom Fell, Answer Me My Love, Ramblin Rose, and Back In My Arms.


Romantic Ballads KING


Widely considered as the king of romantic ballads, Cole's earliest musical dream was to be a great jazz pianist. He formed his first group at 15 years old while still attending high school. For a minimal fee, featuring Cole on piano, the group performed at several Chicago nightclubs. In almost no time, they developed a huge following and were getting bookings so large that it began affecting Cole's schooling. He soon dropped out of high school to spend more time doing music. That's how seriously he took it.

He did his first recording in 1936 a piano piece titled Hush Honey with a band headed by his bass-playing brother, Eddy. His career took off the following year, when he formed The King Cole Trio with bassist Wesley Prince, guitarist Oscar Moore, an occasional drummer, and himself on piano. Their popularity soared to unprecedented heights as they performed in Chicago, California, New York, and Hollywood.

Up to this point, vocals were never a part of the trio's presentation, although Nat at times occasionally dropped in a line or two. But little did he know that fans and business people were being attracted to his dulcet tones whenever he sang. The demand for more vocals began to increase, much to Cole's displeasure as he knew it would derail his dream of becoming America's top jazz pianist.

Although he did elevate himself to that level by the end of the decade - and recorded several creditable pieces with the trio - he still could not escape the pressures closing in on him to move from his piano seat and stand before the mic and sing. When he did a rendition of Sweet Lorraine at a popular nightclub for the first time and turned the place upside down, he might have just been convinced that that was the route to go.


Cole's singing career


Signing to Capitol Records in 1941, Cole began an association with the label that would last for the remainder of his career. The lively, up-tempo cut Straighten Up And Fly Right in 1943 was the first recording for the label and one of the few songs he wrote. It marked his transitioning into full-time singing while still working with the trio. He continued in this vein for the next four years while putting more emphasis on developing his vocal talent.

In 1946, Cole included a string section for the first time with his trio to record The Christmas Song - a perennial favourite. The following year, he continued his march towards becoming a great romantic balladeer when he recorded Nature Boy - his first recording with a full-stringed orchestra. It brought him widespread recognition and widened his appeal to white audiences. Between 1945 and 1962, Cole, as a balladeer, had over a dozen top-10 hits on various charts around the world, including The United States, The United Kingdom, and Australia.

He had two recordings at No. 1 on the Billboard singles chart in 1950 and 1951 - Mona Lisa and Too Young, respectively. Mona Lisa also won an Academy award for Best Original Song from a motion picture that year. Ramblin Rose climbed to No. 2 on both the Billboard and Cash Box charts while reaching No. 1 on the Billboard Easy Listening chart in 1962. Pretend peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard best-sellers chart in 1953, while it sat at number 2 on the UK singles chart. Smile stood at No. 10 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart, while holding down the No. 2 spot on the UK singles chart in 1954. A Blossom Fell - one of Cole's best-loved songs was No. 2 on the Billboard Magazine chart in 1955.

Throughout the remainder of the 1950s, The king of love ballads continued to accumulate romantic hits that sold millions worldwide. A multilingual singer, Cole also recorded songs in French, Latin, and Spanish, which inevitably widened his fan base. The singles, Cachito, Quizas Quizas Quizas and the album Cole EspaÒol, recorded in romantic old Havana in 1958, are classic examples of Cole's magical Spanish expression.

All things being considered, Cole undoubtedly was best known for his romantic ballads.