Smithsonian Collections

Nat "King" Cole

Image for Nat "King" Cole
Data Source
National Portrait Gallery
Exhibition Label
Born Montgomery, Alabama
Nat "King" Cole first made his name in pop music primarily as a pianist with the King Cole jazz trio that he formed in 1939, and some experts think that his most significant contribution to music was a keyboard technique that influenced a number of other noted musicians. But by 1950, the public at large was coming to know Cole as the crooner whose relaxed manner went hand-in-glove with his caressing voice. As hits such as "Mona Lisa" and "Unforgettable" followed one another, he became one of America’s favorite entertainers, and in the fall of 1956 he became the first African American to host a network television show. Cole was sometimes faulted for not being more outspoken in the civil rights cause, but his broad popular appeal was in itself a contribution to the struggle against racism.
Fred Baker
Nat "King" Cole, 17 Mar 1919 - 25 Feb 1965
Credit Line
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Gelatin silver print
Image: 34.6 x 26.7 cm (13 5/8 x 10 1/2")
Sheet: 35.5 x 27.9 cm (14 x 11")
See more items in
National Portrait Gallery Collection
Object number
Music\Musical instrument\Piano
Nat "King" Cole: Male
Nat "King" Cole: Performing Arts\Performer\Musician\Songwriter
Nat "King" Cole: Performing Arts\Performer\Actor\Movie
Nat "King" Cole: Performing Arts\Performer\Musician\Singer\Popular
Nat "King" Cole: Performing Arts\Performer\Television Personality
Nat "King" Cole: Performing Arts\Performer\Musician\Pianist
Nat "King" Cole: Performing Arts\Performer\Musician\Singer\Jazz