Influential jazz pianist, chart-topping recording artist, reluctant actor, advocate for civil rights: Nat King Cole had an enduring impact on music and popular culture, an especially impressive achievement considering that his relatively short three-decade career ended with his death at just 45, more than half a century ago.
The only thing bigger than Cole’s legacy may be the hefty new limited-edition volume Nat King Cole: Stardust, by David Wills, with an introduction by Johnny Mathis. Additional contributions from Quincy Jones, Tony Bennett, Jane Fonda, Leslie Uggams, Harry Belafonte, and Cole’s daughters Casey and Timolin Cole offer insight into the man and his work.
More than 200 never-before-published photographs, now digitally restored, track Cole’s life from his 1919 birth as Nathaniel Adams Coles, in Montgomery, through his illustrious career, and on to his death from lung cancer, in 1965. The book also includes private correspondence from friends and admirers such as Martin Luther King Jr., John Wayne, and John and Jackie Kennedy. (Upon learning of the singer’s cancer diagnosis in December 1964, Jackie sent a personal note in her flourishy, well-spaced script that concluded, “I hope it will help you a little to know how many people are thinking of you.”)
The inaugural title, from Wills’s newly established Nailor Wills Publishing and published in collaboration with Cole’s family, has been limited to 1,000 individually numbered copies and includes a similarly editioned photographic print chosen from the Capitol Records archive (exclusively reproduced for the volume). Cole “actually built Capitol Records,” Tony Bennett writes in the book, “because every record he made went to number one on the Billboard charts.” —David Nash
Nat King Cole: Stardust is out now from Nailor Wills