Ken Tucker
March 09, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Unforgettable Nat King Cole

type
TV Show
Current Status
In Season
performer
Nat King Cole
broadcaster
PBS
genre
Documentary, Music

We gave it a B

Here is a solid survey of Nat ”King” Cole’s career and a welcome addition to the mini-revival the singer-pianist’s music is currently undergoing.

Capitol Records has recently released two excellent CDs that anthologize the high points of Cole’s work, first as a jazz pianist and then as a mainstream pop vocalist. This BBC-produced documentary complements those reissues with rarely seen performance footage as well as interviews with Cole’s widow, Maria, and his children, including singer Natalie.

The title of the show is a bit ironic; soon after his death from lung cancer in 1965, Cole’s cool, ethereal style fell out of favor; white pop was taken over by the Beatles, and black pop was dominated by the rougher sounds of James Brown and Ray Charles.

Thus, much of The Unforgettable Nat King Cole will come as news to younger viewers. Seen and heard now, Cole can be understood both as a first-rate performer in his own right and as an important precursor of the styles used today by singers such as Luther Vandross, Whitney Houston, and Anita Baker. B

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