Black History Month - The Nat King Cole Show - The Power of Jazz
In the 1950s Nat King Cole was in the the mainstream of American show business and had already produced several records that had sold millions of copies each. Cole was a regular guest star on many variety shows on national television including those of Perry Como, Milton Berle, Ed Sullivan and Jackie Gleason. Nat was a natural on television he was offered his own show by NBC which premiered in 1956. Cole was nervous about being the first major black performer to host his own show on network television and at the time said "It could be a turning point, so that Negroes may be featured regularly on television. If I try to make a big thing out of being the first and stir up a lot of talk, it might work adversely."
The show featured excellent music with orchestra leaders Nelson Riddle and Gordan Jenkins and guests that included Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Mel Torme, Pearl Bailey, Mahailia Jackson, Sammy Davis, Jr., Tony Bennett, and Harry Belafonte. From the beginning The Nat King Cole show had a lot of trouble finding national sponsors and NBC even sponsored the show at first in hopes of sponsors emerging. Many companies were afraid to endorse a show with an African-American host out of fear that white, southern audiences would boycott their products. This made little sense to Cole and he was quoted as saying "And what about a corporation like the telephone company? A man sees a Negro on a television show. What's he going to do--call up the telephone company and tell them to take out the phone?" The show was able to find companies that would buy advertising in specific regions but no national sponsors would emerge.
When Singer Sewing Company wanted to sponsor a cowboy show NBC gave them the time slot of Nat's show and while he was offered a less desirable time slot he declined. In Nat's own words "For 13 months I was the Jackie Robinson of television. I was the pioneer, the test case, the Negro first....On my show rode the hopes and tears and dreams of millions of people....Once a week for 64 consecutive weeks I went to bat for these people. I sacrificed and drove myself. I plowed part of my salary back into the show. I turned down $500,000 in dates in order to be on the scene. I did everything I could to make the show a success. And what happened? After a trailblazing year that shattered all the old bugaboos about Negroes on TV, I found myself standing there with the bat on my shoulder. The men who dictate what Americans see and hear didn't want to play ball." Ertha Kitt, one of the guests on The Nat King Cole Show, said "I think it was too early, to show ourselves off as intelligent people."