PERFORMING ARTS

Straighten Up and Fly Right: The Life and Music of Nat King Cole

Oxford Univ. May 2020. 648p. ISBN 9780190882044. $34.95. MUSIC
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Music writer and concert producer Friedwald presents a celebratory biography of pianist and singer Nat King Cole (1919–65). Cole started his career as a teenage band leader, then formed the King Cole Trio with guitarist Oscar Moore and bassist Wesley Prince (who was later replaced by Johnny Miller); the group rose to fame during World War II. Eventually, Cole soared as an internationally acclaimed pop stylist and film star backed by orchestra leaders such as Nelson Riddle and Gordon Jenkins. The author also delves into Cole’s heroic struggle against racial discrimination, his mastery of the machinations of the music business, and his personal life, including coverage of his relationships with his two wives, Nadine Robinson and Maria Hawkins Ellington, both parents, and his five children. The book ends with Cole’s untimely death in 1965 from lung cancer.
VERDICT Though needlessly exaggerating its subject’s considerable accomplishments and sometimes mired in details, this well-researched, comprehensive work should became a standard biography along with Daniel Mark Epstein’s Nat King Cole.

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