Twin daughters of music legend Nat King Cole, Timolin and Casey Cole of Boca Raton, launched Nat King Cole Generation Hope, Inc. in 2008 to honor the legacy, music and life of their father Nat King Cole and mother Maria Cole after learning of budget cuts in public schools directly affecting the arts.
Nat King Cole
Nat King Cole was an American musician who first came to prominence as a jazz pianist. He owes most of his popular musical fame to his soft baritone voice, which he used to perform in big band and jazz genres. Nat King Cole was the first African American to host his own variety show. It aired on NBC-TV for 57 weeks. He has maintained worldwide popularity since his death.
Known for his smooth and well-articulated vocal style, Nat King Cole actually started out as a piano man. He first learned to play around the age of four with help from his mother, a church choir director. In his early teens, Cole had formal classical piano training. He eventually abandoned classical for his other musical passion - jazz. Earl Hines, a leader of modern jazz, was one of Cole's biggest inspirations. Cole joined forces with his brother Eddie for a time, which led to his first professional recordings in 1936.
Cole then started to put together what would become the King Cole Trio, the name being a play on the children's nursery rhyme. They toured extensively and finally landed on the charts in 1943 with That Ain't Right, penned by Cole. Straighten Up and Fly Right, inspired by one of his father's sermons, became another hit for the group in 1944. The trio continued its rise to the top with such pop hits as the holiday classic The Christmas Song and the ballad (I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons.
Cole married for the first time when he was only 17. He and first wife Nadine Robinson divorced in 1948. Cole then married singer Maria Hawkins Ellington with whom he raised five children, Natalie; Carole (1944–2009); Nat Kelly (1959–1995), and twin daughters Casey and Timolin.
By the 1950s, Nat King Cole emerged as a popular solo performer. He scored numerous hits, with such songs as Nature Boy, Mona Lisa, Too Young, and Unforgettable. In the studio, Cole got to work with some of the country's top talent, including Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, and famous arrangers such as Nelson Riddle.
Television and Films
Cole made television history in 1956 when he became the first African-American to host his own national program. The Nat King Cole Show featured many of the leading performers of the day, including Count Basie, Peggy Lee, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Tony Bennett. On the big screen, Cole had first started out in small roles in 1940s, largely playing some version of himself. He landed some sizable parts in the late 1950s, appearing in the Errol Flynn drama Istanbul and the war drama China Gate. His only major starring role came in 1958's St. Louis Blues, in which he got to play blues great W. C. Handy.
Cole succumbed to lung cancer when he was only 45 years old. A who's who of the entertainment world, including Rosemary Clooney, Frank Sinatra, and Jack Benny, turned out to say good-bye to the legendary singer and pianist at his funeral. Cole's music remains popular today, finding its way onto countless commercials, film and television soundtracks.
Portions of this biography are from A&E Television Networks.
Maria Hawkins Cole
Maria Hawkins Cole was born in Boston in 1922. Known for her polish, jazz career and commitment to charitable causes including eradicating cancer, the disease that took her husband’s life in 1965 and eventually her own in 2012.
When Maria was only two her mother died in childbirth, leaving her father Mingo Hawkins who worked for the U.S. Postal Service to care for three little girls alone. Maria and her older sister Charlotte then went to live with their aunt, Dr. Charlotte Hawkins Brown in North Carolina.
Maria Cole’s childhood home and where she was educated, The Charlotte Hawkins Brown Memorial, was once the home of the Palmer Memorial Institute (PMI), one of America’s most prestigious African American prep schools in the first half of the 20th century.
Cole grew up at PMI, meeting such towering figures as W.E.B. Dubois, Mary McLeod Bethune and Eleanor Roosevelt. Though living in Greensboro, the pretty little girl had to face the same discrimination southern African Americans routinely endured during the “Jim Crow” period, her life at PMI was sheltered and comfortable.
Always intrigued by the entertainment world, young Maria Cole took voice and piano lessons; popular music was her love. After graduating from Palmer in 1938, she returned to Boston, attending a clerical college by day and working with a jazz orchestra by night. Before long, Maria was singing with the band and moved to New York to pursue a music career singing under a stage name with jazz great Benny Carter’s band.
In 1943, she married Spurgeon Ellington, a famed Tuskegee Airmen flyer during World War II. Tragically, Maria’s husband was killed during a routine training flight shortly after the war ended.
Though Maria Cole performed briefly with both Count Basie and swing music innovator Fletcher Henderson, her big break came with Duke Ellington, Mr. “A-Train” himself. After hearing tapes of Cole singing, Ellington hired Maria as a vocalist with his legendary orchestra. She stayed with him until 1946 when she began soloing at the city’s Club Zanzibar as an opening act for the Mills Brothers. It was here where she met her future husband Nat “King” Cole.
In 1948 Maria Hawkins and Nat “King” Cole were married by Adam Clayton Powell Jr. at Harlem’s famous Abyssinian Baptist Church in a ceremony attended by numerous celebrities.
That same year, Nat King Cole became one of the first African American music stars to perform on radio where he sang such hits as “Nature Boy.” His success enabled the couple to buy a mansion in Los Angeles. Soon after Maria’s marriage, her sister Carol and her husband both died, leaving behind their daughter “Cookie” who the Coles adopted.
Throughout the 1950s, Nat King Cole’s fortunes continued to rise with his many hit songs, such as “Mona Lisa” and “Unforgettable.” The Coles became increasingly prosperous and socially prominent. In 1950, their first child Natalie was born. She was followed by the late Nat Kelly Cole, adopted in 1959. Maria gave birth to twin girls Timolin and Casey in 1961.
Nat and Maria traveled throughout Europe in the ‘50s and Maria even returned to performing, recording several songs with Nat for Capitol Records. She sang live at top venues in California and on the East Coast.
After her husband’s death, Maria kept Nat’s legacy alive while caring for their five children. She produced a James Baldwin play, sang on the “Ed Sullivan Show,” created the Cole Cancer Foundation and more.
In 1987, she was interviewed by her daughter Natalie and singer Johnny Mathis for a PBS special on Nat. In 1990 both Maria and Natalie accepted a Grammy lifetime achievement award for her late husband. Over the years, she has contributed to her community through charities including the National Kidney Foundation, the Urban League and the Cardiac Research Foundation, Sloane Kettering Cancer Institute, American Cancer Society, Nat King Cole Memorial Fellowship at Tanglewood Music Center and Nat King Cole Generation Hope, Inc. founded by her daughters Timolin and Casey.
Articulate, dignified and positive, Maria Cole has managed her fame, fate and fortune with aplomb. At the time of Maria’s death she lived in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL. She is survived by her sister, Charlotte; her three daughters, Natalie, Timolin and Casey; son- in-laws, Gary and Julian and her six grandchildren.
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