Nathaniel Adams Coles (March 17, 1919 – February 15, 1965), known professionally as Nat King Cole, was an American musician.
Cole first came to prominence as a leading jazz pianist, then switched his emphasis to singing, becoming one of the most popular and best known vocalists of all time.
Cole's first mainstream vocal hit was his 1943 recording of one of his compositions, "Straighten Up and Fly Right", based on a black folk tale that his father had used as a theme for a sermon. Johnny Mercer invited him to record it for the fledgling Capitol Records label. It sold over 500,000 copies, and proved that folk-based material could appeal to a wide audience. Although Nat would never be considered a rocker, the song can be seen as anticipating the first rock and roll records. Indeed, Bo Diddley, who performed similar transformations of folk material, counted Cole as an influence.
Beginning in the late 1940s, Cole began recording and performing more pop-oriented material for mainstream audiences, often accompanied by a string orchestra. His stature as a popular icon was cemented during this period by hits such as "The Christmas Song" (Cole recorded the tune four times: June 14, 1946 as a pure Trio recording; August 19, 1946 with an added string section; August 24, 1953; and again in 1961 for the double album, The Nat King Cole Story. This final version, recorded in stereo, is the one most often heard today.), "Nature Boy" (1948), "Mona Lisa" (1950), "Too Young" (the #1 song in 1951), and his signature tune "Unforgettable" (1951). While this shift to pop music led some jazz critics and fans to accuse Cole of selling out, he never totally abandoned his jazz roots; as late as 1956, for instance, he recorded an all-jazz album, After Midnight.
His last album, L-O-V-E, was recorded in early December 1964 — just a few days before entering the hospital for lung cancer treatment — and released just prior to his death; it peaked at #4 on the Billboard Albums chart in the spring of 1965. A Best Of album went gold in 1968. His 1957 recording of "When I Fall In Love" reached #4 in the UK charts in 1987.