Jazz pianist and singer Nat "King" Cole, the first African American to host his own TV variety show in 1956, was known for his great talent and his grace, even in the face of mistreatment and racial discrimination. WRTI’s Susan Lewis reports on a new play that explores what this grace must have cost him.
Music: "Unforgettable," sung by Nat "King" Cole
Susan Lewis: Nat "King" Cole sang in premier venues, but was not welcome in white hotels. Millions bought his records but his upscale community in Los Angeles protested his move to the neighborhood. And his TV show lasted just over one year.
Dulé Hill: He had all the material, the top notch artists, ratings were doing well, people were tuning in—but he still couldn’t get a national sponsor. How does that not make you crazy?
SL: Actor Dulé Hill, who plays the title role in Lights Out: Nat "King" Cole, marvels at the grace of Cole, whose only public comment when his show ended was: “Madison Avenue is afraid of the dark.”
DH: Underneath grace, there’s always fire. That was what was interesting to me to explore.
SL: The story takes place on the evening of the last taping of his show. Co-author and director Patricia McGregor.
Patricia McGregor: The jewels of black culture can sometimes be celebrated without understanding the cost of the mining it took to get to that place. We put our own feelings about that into our imaginings of what he might have been feeling that night.
SL: A night, and a life, in which music could be a vehicle for both fire and grace.
Music: "Nature Boy," sung by Nat "King" Cole
DH: That passion, that power...they would put it into their songs, their voices, the tunes they would play. That’s the fire that allowed them to extend the grace daily.
SL: Nat "King" Cole sold over 50 million albums for Capitol records, whose headquarters became known as "The House that Nat Built."