US musician. The first black male to attain mainstream acceptance as a popular singer, he released a continual series of hit records throughout his career. In 1939, he began recording with his King Cole Trio, whose piano-bass-guitar instrumentation was widely copied. In 1943 it had its first national hit, ‘Straighten Up and Fly Right’, featuring solo singing by Cole. He gradually reduced the prominence of his piano playing to concentrate on singing.
He was born in Birmingham, Alabama, and brought up in Chicago. He made his recording debut in 1936 with Eddie Cole's Solid Swingers, a sextet led by his brother. He toured with a Shuffle Along revue in 1937, then settled in Los Angeles where he played solo piano for a year.In 1956–57, he was the first black American to host his own network television show, but it failed to attract a national sponsor and was not renewed. In 1958 he portrayed W C Handy in the film biography St Louis Blues, one of several motion pictures in which he appeared. A biography, Unforgettable, by Leslie Course, was published in 1991.
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