Arts

How The Nat King Cole Show Revolutionized National Television

Nat King Cole was the first black man to host a nationally televised variety show and he has been called “the Jackie Robinson of TV.”
Nat King Cole was the first black man to host a nationally televised variety show and he has been called “the Jackie Robinson of TV.”
Credit / Associated Press

City Lights continues its centennial celebration of the birth of Nat King Cole with WABE’s Jazz Host, H. Johnson. 

In this segment, Johnson and “City Lights'” host Lois Reitzes spoke about the Nat King Cole Show. Cole was the first black man to host a nationally televised variety show and he has been called “the Jackie Robinson of TV.” The show aired on NBC  from 1956 to 1957, despite the fact that the program hosted some of the biggest stars at the time.

NBC was unable to secure national sponsors for the show due to fear that their products would be boycotted by disgruntled Southerners. It was a brief, yet important event in modern American history. Cole was not only the highest paid black person in America of the time, but he was also one of the most successful entertainers in the world.

“Some people wanted him [Nat ‘King’ Cole] to be a stereotype from ‘Amos and Andy,’ but he was too dignified for that,” Johnson said. “He was an artist, highly educated, very intelligent and you can’t subjugate that.”

Jonson hopes the younger generations will research Cole and learn from all jazz has to offer. He said most of the most gifted jazz musicians of today have been inspired by Nat ‘King’ Cole’s talents.

“When I listen to Earl Hines, I can see where Nat picked up some of that and where it came from. It’s a lineage thing; you don’t start being great without having some kind of background,” Johnson said.

Cole ultimately decided to end the show because he was distraught that NBC was having to front the money in order to keep the show going. Only local businesses would pay for advertisements. Even though he only had a short stint on television, his impact on the African-American communities (and nationally), was timeless.