Nat King Cole was a world-renowned singer and jazz pianist.
After getting his start playing in high school dance bands Cole went to California with a revue, "Shuffle Along," that went broke in Long Beach in 1937. After the revue folded, Cole said he "played piano in almost every beer joint from San Diego to Bakersfield" until he got a job for a jazz quartet at the Swanee in Hollywood.
The drummer in the quartet never showed up, but the Nat King Cole Trio was born.
Legend has it that an inebriated customer once jammed a paper hat onto the pianist's head and proclaimed, "Look! King Cole!" The name stuck.
Cole's first hit recording was his own "Straighten Up and Fly Right" in 1943 for Liberty Records (now Capitol), and he was on his way.
A personal friend and White House guest of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, Cole was outspoken on racial issues. He bemoaned an age that accepted black entertainers as "no threat to anybody," while black doctors, lawyers and educators were denied similar recognition.
Cole launched a television show that drew tremendous ratings and reviews but ended in 1957 after 64 weeks because national advertisers would not then back a black man, Cole said.
Among his all-time bestselling recordings were "Mona Lisa," "Too Young," "For Sentimental Reasons," "Pretend," "Answer Me My Love," "Rambling Rose," "Christmas Song" and "Smile."