Nat King Cole first African American to host a variety program

Nat King Cole, Variety Show Host, Singer, Musician and Composer

By Denise Williams
The Florida/Georgia Star

Nat King Cole was the first African-American singer, musician, and composer to host his own variety show entitled, “The Nat King Cole Show”. His show premiered on the NBC television network on November 5, 1956. At the onset, it was slated to be a 15-minute program airing on Monday evenings from 7:30 to 7:45 p.m. When the show aired, there were no sponsors who were willing to pick up the program. After just one year, the show was canceled in December 1957. In a segregated United States; sponsors felt they would lose business specifically in the southern regions of the U.S. if they supported the program nationally. Initially, a few sponsors picked up the show locally such as Rheingold Beer in Hartford, CT, and New York City; Coca-Cola in Houston; Regal beer in New Orleans; Gallo wine and Colgate toothpaste in Los Angeles but none were willing to commit to a national sponsorship. Guests on the show were of all ethnicities and in spite of the controversy surrounding the program and its lack of sponsors; it was well warmly received by the public.

Nat King Cole had his first hit, “Straighten Up & Fly Right” which was inspired by one of his fathers’ sermons. In 1946, he recorded a song that would become his signature, “The Christmas Song”. Nat King Cole was known around the world as a superstar selling millions of records. He built a music legacy that inspires young artists today. His daughter Natalie also followed his footsteps by cultivating an outstanding career of her own in music. He was born in Montgomery, Alabama March 17, 1919, as Nathaniel Adams Coles. His father was a Baptist Pastor. Taught by his mother who directed the choir, he began piano lessons as early as age 4. His music remained popular for over three decades until he died of lung cancer in February 1965.