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Montgomery birthplace home of jazz legend Nat "King" Cole gets historic marker

Published: Jul. 31, 2015 at 10:18 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 30, 2015 at 10:31 PM CDT
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(Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News)
Nat "King" Cole (Source: ASU)
Nat "King" Cole (Source: ASU)

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The Montgomery house where legendary jazz singer Nat "King" Cole was born in 1919 now has a historic marker indicating its significance to those who pass by. The marker was placed by Alabama State University officials, along with the Nat King Cole Society.

The marker reads:

Nat King Cole was a jazz pianist, composer, and singer celebrated as an American popular music artist in the 1940s and 1950s. He was born March 17, 1919 in Montgomery, Alabama as one of five children to Edward James Coles, a minister at Beulah Baptist Church in Montgomery, and Perlina Adams Coles, who sang in the choir.

He began formal lessons at the age of 12, eventually learning not only jazz and gospel but also classical music. By age 17, he wrote songs and played jazz piano in his older brother's group.

In 1956, while Cole was participating in the first mixed race performance in Birmingham, Alabama, several white men stormed the stage injuring him.

Also in 1956, the Nat King Col Show debuted on NBC-TV, the first of its kind hosted by an African-American.

In 1990, Cole was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. The United States Postal Service issued a stamp featuring Cole in 1994.

Cole has been inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Cole rose to popularity with a soft baritone voice that sang such songs as "Mona Lisa", "The Christmas Song", "Unforgettable" and "L-O-V-E", his final hit. The artist died of lung cancer in California in 1965. He was just 45.

"It took a lot of hard work to start and set the foundation to have an appreciation in Alabama for African American historical sites," said Rep. John Knight.

State lawmakers Alvin Holmes, John Knight, and Thad McClammy worked to secure funding for the historical markers, authorizing a place in history for Ralph Abernathy as well.

"If it wasn't for him and Dr. King many of us in the position we are today wouldn't be here today if it were not for Dr. King and Dr. Abernathy, as a matter of fact, this was the home that was bombed," Holmes said.

For many, the home on the corner of North University and Harris Way on Alabama State University's campus represents much more than the birthplace of the jazz legend.

"When people come to this great city, the city of dreams they will be able to know that a lot of dreams have been realized because of things that have happened here, they'll be able to see and understand the story and then be able to connect the dots from history into the future," said Gwendolyn Boyd, President of Alabama State University.

The Nat King Cole Society agrees, continuing Cole's legacy and using the markers as a teaching tool for all those that visit the Capital City.

"The future looks very bright, especially with the jazz fest tomorrow at the Shakespeare Theater and we're looking forward to bigger and greater things and I do believe that Natalie will come to Montgomery Alabama and see the birthplace of her father," said Rozelia Harris with the Nat King Cole Society.

Of course, when Harris says Natalie she's referring to Nat King Cole's daughter, Natalie Cole, a music legend I her own right.

The house has been moved from the exact location where it was when Cole was born.

The inaugural Nat King Cole Jazz Festival will be held Saturday at 4 p.m. at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival.

Copyright 2015 WSFA 12 News. All rights reserved.