Spring 2017

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64 SAG -AF TR A | Spring 2017 | Snapshot by Valerie Yaros Snapshot by Valerie Yaros SAG-AFTRA COLLECTION U nforgettable (1951) is not only the title of one of the most popular songs Nat King Cole sang, but describes him as an artist — and a man. By the 1940s, his talent and charisma lifted him and his King Cole Trio to radio and recording stardom, but being African-American, he was not welcome everywhere, and not just in the segregated South. In 1948 Los Angeles, homeowners in the affluent white neighborhood where he purchased a residence objected, but he stood fast. Denied hotel room accommodations in Pittsburgh in 1949 and in Illinois in 1950, he fought back with lawsuits. During an April 10, 1956, performance, Cole was attacked onstage by a group of white men in Birmingham, Alabama, as he headlined the Record Star Parade of 1956 tour. Local law decreed audiences be separated by race, and this marked the first time a local show presented black and white entertainers on the same stage. Soon after the attack, Cole declared, "We have to show the segregationists that we are bigger than they are." Battered but unbowed, he debuted his nationally broadcast 15-minute variety program, The Nat King Cole Show, seven months later on NBC-TV. At least three black entertainers had their own 15-minute television music programs before Cole: Bob Howard in 1948, Trinidad-born Hazel Scott in 1950 and Billy Daniels in 1952. But this was the first time an African-American star of Cole's magnitude hosted his own network TV show. It expanded to 30 minutes on July 2, 1957. Stars who commanded thousands of dollars for a single TV performance appeared for AFTRA scale — $155 — to help Cole, since the program could not win a national sponsor. It was a combination of the show's inability to attract a national sponsorship and NBC's decision to move the show to a less- desirable time slot that prompted Cole to end his program after 13 months. In 1965 at age 45, lung cancer ended his life, but his magnificent voice endures. The 'Unforgettable' Dignity of Nat King Cole Nat King Cole plays the piano at a Capitol Records recording session in the late 1940s.

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