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

  • Playlist
  • Download
  • Embed
    Embed <iframe src="http://www.npr.org/player/embed/5411446/5411447" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no">
  • Transcript
  • Playlist
  • Embed
    Embed <iframe src="http://www.npr.org/player/embed/5411446/5411486" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no">
Nat 'King' Cole performs to an audience in the 1950s.

Nat "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. Bettmann/CORBIS hide caption

itoggle caption Bettmann/CORBIS

Songs from the 'King'

  • Playlist
  • Embed
    Embed <iframe src="http://www.npr.org/player/embed/5411446/5411671" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no">
  • Playlist
  • Embed
    Embed <iframe src="http://www.npr.org/player/embed/5411446/5411673" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no">

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

Purchase Featured Music

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

Your purchase helps support NPR Programming. How?

 

Very Best of Nat King Cole [Capitol]

Purchase Music

Purchase Featured Music

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

Your purchase helps support NPR Programming. How?

 

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.