On this day in music history: November 5, 1956 – “The Nat King Cole Show” makes its debut on the NBC television network. The landmark variety series makes history as the first nationally aired program to be hosted by an African American performer. The show begins initially as a fifteen minute program which is then expanded to a half hour in July 1957. The show features many high profile guests (and personal friends of Cole’s) including Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Harry Belafonte, Mel Tormé and Eartha Kitt. These performers appeared on the show working for either industry scale, or for no pay at all. During its run, the program lacks major product sponsorship with many potential sponsors fearing they will offend certain viewers not wanting to see black performers on television. In spite of generating constantly high ratings, Cole (not NBC) decides to end the show after only thirteen months (with the final episode airing on December 17, 1957) due to high operating costs.
On this day in music history: July 8, 1950 – “Mona Lisa” by Nat King Cole hits #1 on the Billboard Pop Singles chart for 8 weeks, also topping the Rhythm & Blues charts for 4 weeks on September 2, 1950. Written by Ray Evans and Jay Livingston, it is the thirty first single release for the legendary jazz and pop vocalist from Montgomery, AL. The song is featured in the film “Captain Carey, U.S.A.” starring Alan Ladd. Arranged by Nelson Riddle and with instrumental backing by Les Baxter & His Orchestra, Cole’s version of the song is featured on the film’s soundtrack. “Mona Lisa” wins the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1951, quickly becoming a pop standard and is covered by numerous artists over the years, though Cole’s is widely regarded as the definitive version. Nat King Cole’s recording of “Mona Lisa” is inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 1992.
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Born on this day: March 17, 1919 – Jazz and pop music icon Nat King Cole (born Nathaniel Adams Coles in Montgomery, AL). Happy Birthday to this musical giant on what would have been his 100th Birthday.