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Unforgettable: The Life and Mystique of Nat King Cole.

Most African-American adults have a sense of the '50s and '60s-even if they gained it through television when they were very young. Our memories include: school desegregation, Paul Robeson's dramatics, sit-ins, African decolonization and Rosa Parks. Many of us also recall a smooth warrior and dapper crooner making musical and racial history as host of his own variety show: Nat King Cole.

Cole was to '50s television what Jackie Robinson was to sports and radio in the late '40s, and what Bill Cosby was to '60s TV. He was a pioneer.

Unfortunately, Leslie Gourse's book, Unforgettable: The Life and Mystique of Nat King Cole, disappoints. True, Gourse can tell us how Cole became the "King": He played a mean piano long before anyone knew how well he sang. The details are here. Yet the book misses the story. This is an outsider's vision, lacking knowledge of Cole, his culture, people, time or his American Dream. The author's constant reference to African-Americans as Negroes is offensive and telling. A racist assault on Cole during a 1956 Birmingham visit lacks context--especially with the historic Montgomery bus boycott occurring just miles away. Gourse also misreads Cole's personal history. He writes, "The Civil Rights Movement, without which Nat Cole had maneuvered his way through the labyrinth of the country's racial policies...." But Cole was a minister's son, an outspoken foe of media bias, a benefit performer for the NAACP, and it's doubtful he would have made such claims.

Natalie Cole's devoted dad was unforgettable. He was born in Alabama in 1919 and died of lung cancer at age 46 in the prime of his career. And, his piano skill, dulcet tones, velvet nature, "crossover" appeal and conked do are all part of the image still with us even now, 27 years later.

Thankfully, other biographies reveal the man. They are: Nat King Cole: An Intimate Biography by his widow, Maria Cole, and Nat King Cole: The Man and His Music by James Haskins.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Adams, Janus
Publication:Black Enterprise
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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