How should we memorialise Nat King Cole? If, like St. Nick and the Advent calendar, it is once a year in December, we are doing Cole’s talent, influence and life story a disservice.
Nat King Cole in Los Angeles, 1964 (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Though rock is now filed firmly in the Heritage section alongside jazz and folk, its official history still rules our thinking about popular music. Everything started with Elvis Presley, the wisdom still goes, and before him there was only dross. Nat King Cole is one of the great victims of this belief, his decades of work reduced to a single function. Like Slade, Mariah Carey, The Pogues and Bing Crosby, he is a fixture of our lives in that narrow window between the middle of November and Boxing Day, when we hear his impossibly rich voice launch for the 74th year running into the The Christmas Song, reminding us of chestnuts roasting on an open fire and Jack Frost nipping at our nose.

He deserves much more. Just as that effortlessly seductive voice still charms its way into our minds each year, his influence is more deeply ingrained in the culture than we would think. His style influenced a generation of singers, from Ray Charles to Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye, who in turn influenced many more, all the way up to the present. And Cole was more than the sum of his records, a superstar on the scale of those we still revere from later eras — so successful, in fact, that his record company, Capitol, later home to The Beatles, The Beach Boys and The Eagles, was known as the House that Nat Built.


James Medd


April 2021


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