Magazine article America in WWII

Jazz vs. Pop, Black vs. White-Only in a Paper World

Magazine article America in WWII

Jazz vs. Pop, Black vs. White-Only in a Paper World

Article excerpt

WHEN YOU CONSIDER the music that made Nat "King" Cole popular, it's hard to imagine he could have been controversial. But he was. As he made the transition from swing pianist and instrumental-combo leader to pop crooner in the 1940s, jazz critics complained that he was abandoning his roots. They lambasted him for what they saw as a Faustian Uncle Tom bargain--selling his jazz soul to make a fortune spoon-feeding musical oatmeal to the white masses.

At least that criticism was understandable, coming from fans of a music who felt betrayed by one of its greatest talents. The opposition Cole met in his new milieu, however, was even harsher. Though he did make a fortune, it came at the price of constantly having to struggle to make his way in a world that his foes made clear was not his own. Neighbors ostracized him when he moved into an upscale Los Angeles suburb, many hotels refused to let him stay in their beds, and white supremacists attacked him while he was in Birmingham, Alabama, to perform. The racial strife finally seemed to have fallen behind him as he signed on for a television series in 1956. But reality struck again when the show died due to lack of sponsorship and the refusal of some stations to air it.

Years have passed since Cole's untimely death in 1965. Passions have cooled and prejudices waned, and today Nat "King" Cole has found widespread appreciation among fans and critics of both the genres he graced. Jazz critics laud his 1930s and early 1940s swing trio work, while pop aficionados treasure his later vocal recordings with orchestras and strings. …

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