Nat King Cole’s centennial falls this Sunday, March 17.
It’s a perfect invitation for a tribute — and Michael Bourne is the perfect guide. He’ll devote the entirety of this Sunday’s Singers Unlimited show to the music and legacy of Cole.
“He really was a pioneer,” Bourne attests. “He was the first African-American artist to have a TV show on a network. That was a big deal, and he suffered some seriously horrific racism. But he survived all that, he triumphed over all that, in spite of all that — and became one of the great stars.”
In addition to a generous helping of Cole’s music, both familiar and obscure, this special edition of Singers Unlimited will feature some of the many gestures of homage by contemporary singers and heirs.
“It’s just a beautiful sound,” says Bourne. “And you can hear that sound in singers who have come along since, like Johnny Hartman and Kevin Mahogany, and in recent years, Allan Harris.” Among his favorite Cole tributes are those by Diana Krall, Carmen McRae and Natalie Cole, who won several Grammy awards for “Unforgettable,” featuring her father in a deceptively seamless duet.
Michael remembers seeing Natalie perform that duet for the first time, at Lincoln Center — a moment that has stayed with him, just as he’ll never forget hearing the Diana Krall Trio at the Montreal Jazz Festival, singing the songs that would eventually appear on All For You: A Dedication to the Nat King Cole Trio.
Tune in to Singers Unlimited on Sunday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. — or stream the show live at WBGO.org.
Recording mix and edit: Sarah Kerson