The Nat King Cole Show Goes Digital

A historic musical TV show will be hitting iTunes tomorrow. Here is the official word with all of the details:

More than 50 years after its initial airing on television, the estate of Nat King Cole plans to digitally release The Nat King Cole Show on iTunes on Tuesday, February 15, 2011, which marks the 46th Anniversary of Cole's passing in 1965.

These rare television shows, largely unseen in their entirety since their initial airings in the 1950s are being presented for the first time digitally re-mastered from the original kinescopes. We have Cole's widow, Maria Cole, to thank for savings these shows and for helping to preserve the legacy of her late husband. "I knew these TV shows were too important to have something happen to them, so that's way I held on them all these years. And I'm so excited that they will be seen exactly they were first seen back in 1956-1957. And Nat never looked or sounded better in those shows. It's just a shame that the show lasted just a little more than a year," says Maria Cole, who currently resides in Florida.

The shows will be released digitally four episodes at a time on a monthly basis with a suggested retail price of $1.99 per episode for download and $.99 per episode for video on demand or rental. Select individual videos will also be available for sale on iTunes and promoted via Nat King Cole's Vevo channel and YouTube.

The Nat King Cole Show premiered November 5, 1956 on NBC making Cole the first African-American to host and star in a television variety show. And almost from their beginning there were problems with commercial sponsorship, due to the difficulty advertising agencies had convincing national clients that an African-American program show wouldn't cause Southern boycotts of their products. NBC had to foot the bill for most of the episodes, which aired commercial-free.

The show eventually picked up regional sponsors such as Rheingold Beer but a national sponsor never appeared. Even with the support of Cole's musical friends including: Sammy Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, Harry Belafonte, Johnny Mercer, Mel Tormé and Peggy Lee, The Nat King Cole Show was doomed to fail. So on December 17, 1957, Cole walked away from his own television show, later he would remark, "Madison Avenue is afraid of the dark."

The first four shows being released originate from January and February of 1957 and feature musical performances that include: "Love Me Tender," "Banana Boat Song (Day-O)," "Hey Jealous Lover," Blueberry Hill" and "I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face." Musical accompaniment was provided by Nelson Riddle and his Orchestra. The January 28th show was a particular special one, it was filmed at the Paramount Theater in New York City with guest Count Basie and songs include: "Lady Be Good" and "Namely You."

Music historian Will Friedwald has stated, "Nat King Cole is, without a doubt, the single biggest record-seller of his generation." The only one that comes close is — a generation later — is Elvis." With that relaxed voice, Cole's music and songs have remained timeless. It has been said that when Frank Sinatra went home to relax, he played Nat King Cole records.

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