Celebrating Black Entertainment in Television: NAT KING COLE: “Madison Ave. is afraid of the dark.”

Written By: Greg Howell - Jan• 30•21

Nat King Cole was TV’s perennial and favorite guest star in the 1950s and 1960s. Beginning with Ed Sullivan in 1950 (he ultimately made 14 appearances on that show), his smooth vocals and classic songs enamored audiences on the biggest TV shows of the day. Gleason, Skelton, Benny, Berle, Gobel, Paar, and Shore, to name just a few, featured Nat King Cole in over 100 appearances.

In 1956, Cole starred in his own variety show that ran for 49 episodes and making him the first African-American man to star in his own variety series. While well-received, the show never was able to attain an official national sponsor. Without sponsorship, he was forced to end his show December 17, 1957. He said publicly about the situation, “Madison Avenue is afraid of the dark.”

Nat King Cole was one of the biggest recording starts of the time, landing eight #1 and over 100 hits on the Billboard charts. He had a successful run in the movies with one reel shorts, 18 films total, that played as opening act to movie theater audiences. In 1963, he headlined his own television special for the BBC, “An Evening with Nat King Cole.” In 1991, daughter Natalie Cole recorded an album of her father’s songs, titled and anchored by an “Unforgettable” duet and single, the #1 album sold over 7 million copies, winning 6 grammy awards, including album, song, record, and traditional pop vocal performance.

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