Cole was one of the first African Americans to host a television variety show, The Nat King Cole Show, and has maintained worldwide popularity since his death from lung cancer in February 1965.
Early lifeNathaniel Adams Coles was born in Montgomery, Alabama, on March 17, 1919. Coles had three brothers: Eddie, Ike, and Freddy, and a half-sister, Joyce Coles. Ike and Freddy would later pursue careers in music as well. When Cole was four years old, he and his family moved to Chicago, Illinois, where his father, Edward Coles, became a Baptist minister. Cole learned to play the organ from his mother, Perlina Coles, the church organist. His first performance was of "Yes! We Have No Bananas" at age four. He began formal lessons at 12, eventually learning not only jazz and gospel music, but also Western classical music, performing, as he said, "from Johann Sebastian Bach to Sergei Rachmaninoff".
The family lived in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago. Cole would sneak out of the house and hang around outside the clubs, listening to artists such as Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines, and Jimmie Noone. He participated in Walter Dyett's renowned music program at DuSable High School.