'Nat King Cole Show' Challenged TV's Race Line

Nat 'King' Cole performs to an audience in the 1950s.

hide captionNat "King" Cole performs to an audience in the 1950s. The singer and pianist struggled for a year to keep his pioneering variety show on the air, but corporate sponsorship proved elusive.

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Songs from the 'King'

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  • "Unforgettable"
  • Album: The Greatest Hits [Capitol]
  • Artist: Nat King Cole
  • Label: DCC
  • Released: 1969
 
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  • "Autumn Leaves [French Version]"
  • Album: Very Best of Nat King Cole [Capitol]
  • Artist: Nat King Cole
  • Label: Capitol
  • Released: 2006
 

The Nat King Cole Show debuted in 1956, making singer and jazz pianist Nat "King" Cole the first black man to host a nationally televised variety program.

The crooner's singing and television career is the subject of an American Masters documentary debuting on PBS Wednesday night. The show details how Cole reluctantly challenged segregation on television and in American society, but decide after a little more than one year later on the air to end the show for lack of a corporate sponsor.

The show featured some of the era's biggest stars sharing the stage with Cole, who was himself one of the top talents of his day. But television executives, wary of a backlash from an America still deeply divided along racial lines, took pains to put distance between Cole and his white female guests.

Purchase Featured Music

The Greatest Hits [Capitol]

Purchase Music

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Purchase Featured Music

  • Album: The Greatest Hits [Capitol]
  • Artist: Nat King Cole
  • Label: DCC
 

Very Best of Nat King Cole [Capitol]

Purchase Music

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Purchase Featured Music

  • Album: Very Best of Nat King Cole [Capitol]
  • Artist: Nat King Cole
  • Label: Capitol
  • Released: 2006
 

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