GREGORY PORTER ON NAT KING COLE (320kbs-m4a/129mb/56mins)
BBC Radio 2 broadcast: 26th September 2018
Multi-award winning musician Gregory Porter presents a tribute to his idol, the extraordinarily powerful but underrated Nat King Cole, explaining why the legendary singer and songwriter was more than just a massive music star, but more importantly broke cultural boundaries with his political activism.
Gregory will explain how this mild mannered musician from Alabama, with a deeply religious upbringing, was inspired musically and politically by his parents. His father was a Baptist minister and his mother was the church organist, who taught Nat to love jazz and classic music.
As his music career progressed and he travelled around America he became inspired to work as an activist, following his own experiences of racism, especially in the Deep South.
In 1957 Nat became the first African American to host a variety show on American television, which created controversy at the time. Many fellow musicians including Ella Fitzgerald, Harry Belafonte, Frankie Laine, Mel Torme, Peggy Lee, Eartha Kitt and Tony Bennett performed for free in order to help the show save money, but the producers could not find sponsorship and The Nat King Cole Show only survived one year after which Cole quipped "Madison Avenue is afraid of the dark.”
Gregory will explain how once he earned enough money to buy a house Nat moved in to an all-white neighbourhood of Los Angeles. The Ku Klux Klan, still active in Los Angeles well into the 1950s, responded by placing a burning cross on his front lawn. Members of the property-owners association told Cole they did not want any "undesirables" moving into the neighbourhood, to which Cole retorted, "Neither do I. And if I see anybody undesirable coming in here, I'll be the first to complain." In 1956, Cole was assaulted on stage during a concert in Birmingham, Alabama, by three men belonging to the North Alabama Citizens Council, in an attempt to kidnap him.
At a fascinating time in US and world politics, Gregory will present a unique insight into an entertainer who was determined to use his success to change racial perceptions in America.