H I C A G O
R I B U T E
Cole's warm, relaxed, velvety
voice made him a best-selling recording
star. His 1949 hit "Mona Lisa" sold more
than three million copies, and in 1956 he
became the first African- American to
host a network television program.
Born Nathaniel Coles, he gained fame as a piano player while living at 4023
South Vincennes Avenue. Greatly influenced by both Earl "Fatha"
Hines and Count Basie, Coles honed his playing skills by performing at amateur
nights in local clubs, including the Savoy Ballroom and the Regal Theater.
His father, a minister at True Light Baptist Church, would only allow him
to play jazz if he continued to play organ in church. In fact, Cole's first
commercial hit, "Straighten Up and Fly Right," (1942) was based
on the title of one of his father's sermons.
Coles left Chicago in
1937 to tour with the musical revue "Shuffle Along of 1933." After
settling in southern California, Coles shortened his name and began playing
in small clubs. Cole achieved great commercial success when he began to
sing as well as play. His many hits include "Nature Boy," "Too
Young," and "Unforgettable."