Legendary singer Nat “King” Cole was at the prime of his career throughout the 1940s and 1950s. Known as a jazz pianist, the award-winning artist enjoyed great success, including a string of hits with recording labels such as Capitol Records.
The one song he’s known most for would surprise even Cole, who died in 1965.
Nat King Cole’s legacy
One of the most successful singers of his era – of any race – Cole broke barriers seemingly by being himself. His easygoing nature and, most notably, his talent, spoke for themselves.
“That was the great gift of his charisma,” Daniel Mark Epstein, the author of a 1999 biography of the singer, said in a 2019 conversation with NPR. “That there was so much passion in his voice and so much intelligence, he was able to transcend the color barrier.”
The “Mona Lisa” singer had been a heavy smoker and lived only to the age of 45 after succumbing to lung cancer. But his music and voice are still as beloved today as ever.
“Nat King Cole’s voice is really one of the great gifts of nature,” Epstein added. “Remember, he was never trained as a singer. And so, his voice is absolutely pure. He’s a baritone with absolutely perfect pitch. He sings the notes true and he hits them right in the center.”
Natalie Cole’s ‘Unforgettable’ “duet” with her father
In 1991, singer Natalie Cole moved away from her jazz and pop niche to release her album Unforgettable With Love. It was a love letter of sorts to her father, featuring her renditions of his most popular songs, including “Smile,” “Route 66,” and the song that put Natalie back on the map after a rough few years going in and out of rehab for drug abuse, “Unforgettable.”
The latter song featured Natalie and Nat in a “virtual duet,” a practice that, while regularly used now, was groundbreaking at the time, and brought the 1950s superstar back to life by way of a recording.
She told The Independent, “Nothing had been attempted like that. To lift Dad’s voice, literally, off of that track and put it on a brand new one, and then line it up, match it up, get the phrasing right. I remember listening – everyone listening at the end, and we were just enthralled. It was really wonderful.”
The album and song swept every category they had been nominated in at the Grammys in 1992. “I thank my dad for leaving me such a wonderful, wonderful heritage,” Natalie Cole said at Radio City Music Hall that year.
The album and song made it to No. 1 on the Billboard charts in 1991, but it was Natalie’s accomplishment, not her father’s.
His most famous song remains popular today
Cole’s most famous song? It’s “The Christmas Song” recorded by Nat King Cole in 1953. Written by Mel Torme specifically for Cole, the holiday tune is wildly popular, naturally, between November and December each year.
With its imagery of warm chestnuts and children waiting for Santa Claus to make his annual visit, Cole’s recording of “The Christmas Song” catapulted the singer back into the top 5 on Billboard in 2019.