Saturday, January 22, 2011

Unforgettable: Nat King Cole

Artist: Nat King Cole
Lyrics: Irving Gordon, 1951
Arrangement: Nelson Riddle
Recorded: 1951

The song was written by Irving Gordon, a Brooklyn, NY-based songwriter born into a Jewish family. Unforgettable is considered Nat King Cole’s signature tune. His original recording was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2000.

Nat King Cole was born Nathaniel Adams Coles in Montgomery, Alabama on March 17, 1919. He moved with his family at age four to Chicago, Illinois. With his father as a Baptist minister and his mother a church organist, Cole was surrounded by music and soon learned to play the organ from his mother. His formal musical training, which began at age 12, ranged from gospel to jazz to classical music, including Bach and Rachmaninoff.

The family lived in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago, then famous for its nightlife and jazz clubs. Nathaniel would sneak out of the house and hang outside the clubs, listening to such  artists as Louis Armstrong, Earl "Fatha" Hines, and Jimmie Noone. He also participated in Captain Walter Henri Dyett's music program at DuSable High School. 

Coles would drop the s from his last name and become Nat Cole, a short snappy name for a performer. The moniker "King" is attributed by various sources to the English nursery rhyme of Old King Cole, as this bio on Cole says:
In fact, Nat got his nickname "King" performing at one jazz club, a nickname presumably reinforced by the otherwise-unrelated nursery rhyme about "Old King Cole". Cole also was pianist in a national touring revival of ragtime and Broadway legend Eubie Blake's revue, Shuffle Along. When it suddenly failed in Long Beach, California, Cole decided to remain there.
He formed a band, The King Cole Swingers, which played at local bars in Long Beach, California. That's was the beginning of Nat King Cole's career. They played in Los Angeles throughout the 1930s building a following. The King Cole Trio signed with the start-up record company, Capitol Records, in 1943 and stayed with the recording company for the rest of Cole's career.

Nat King was a heavy smoker, up to three packs a day, and died of lung cancer on February 15, 1965. He was 45.

Technology sometimes amazes, such as the time in 1991 when Natalie Cole and her father had a hit with Unforgettable. Natalie mixed her own voice with her father's 1961 rendition of Unforgettable, part of a tribute album, Unforgettable with Love, to her father's music. The clip is here.

By Irving Gordon.

Unforgettable, that's what you are
Unforgettable though near or far
Like a song of love that clings to me
How the thought of you does things to me
Never before has someone been more

Unforgettable in every way
And forever more, that's how you'll stay
That's why, darling, it's incredible
That someone so unforgettable
Thinks that I am unforgettable too

Unforgettable in every way
And forever more, that's how you'll stay
That's why, darling, it's incredible
That someone so unforgettable
Thinks that I am unforgettable too

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