Tune in to Jazz with Victor Cooper – weekdays from 6-9 a.m. MT – for Stories of Standards to hear our favorite versions of this song presented by Rodney Franks all week long starting Monday, March 11!
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“Straighten Up and Fly Right” (1943) was based on a traditional folk tale used by Nat “King” Cole’s father in a sermon. In the tale, a buzzard offers rides to small animals, drops them from a great height for snacks, and is eventually outwitted by a monkey.
Nat “King” Cole (17 March 1919-15 Feb 1965) was born in Montgomery, Alabama, as Nathaniel Adams Coles. When he was four years old his father, Edward Coles, became a Baptist minister. Cole’s mother, Pernina, was the church organist. His formal music training began when he was twelve years old. As a teenager he spent a great deal of time standing outside clubs, listening to pianists, especially Earl “Fatha” Hines. He dropped the final “s” from his name when he first began playing professionally. In 1937, stranded in California while touring with the musical “Shuffle Along”, he put together a trio and started using “King” Cole as a name, based on the nursery rhyme. He began singing with the trio and in 1939 they recorded “Sweet Lorraine”. Their 1943 recording of “Straighten Up and Fly Right” had become a million-seller by 1944. This did not greatly profit them, as Cole had sold the song to publisher Irving Mills for $50 and didn’t retain royalty rights. Starting with pop hits in the mid-1940s, Cole had become an international star by the mid-1950s, leading to “The Nat ‘King’ Cole” show on NBC, which premiered 5 Nov 1956, the first nationally broadcast television program hosted by an African-American. The show was very popular and received great reviews, but never found a national sponsor. “Madison Avenue is afraid of the dark,” Cole quipped. He pulled the plug in November 1957 after 64 episodes. Diagnosed with cancer in 1964, he died February 15, 1965, shortly before his 46th birthday. He had been a heavy smoker for years and had said that if he recovered he would urge people to stop smoking.
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