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Nat King Cole © William P. Gottlieb; used by permission. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress (LC-GLB23-0151 DLC).


Cole, Nat King (17 March 1919–15 February 1965), pianist and singer, was born Nathaniel Adams Coles in Montgomery, Alabama, the son of the Reverend Edward James Coles, Sr., and Perlina Adams, a musician. Cole’s family moved to Chicago when he was four. He first studied piano with his mother, then with bassist Milt Hinton’s mother, and at the age of twelve, classical piano with a Professor Thomas. The family home was located near the Grand Terrace Ballroom, where Cole often heard his first and most important influence, pianist ...


Lewis, Ted (06 June 1890–25 August 1971), entertainer, musician, and bandleader, was born Theodore Leopold Friedman in rural Circleville, Ohio, the son of an owner of a dry goods store whose name cannot be ascertained. Young Theodore began his show business career performing in a nickelodeon in his hometown and learned to play the clarinet in his school band. As a beginning clarinetist, Lewis was something of a prodigy. Although he was never regarded seriously as a musician, he played easily and improvised naturally. Having no desire to go into the dry goods business and still in his teens, he went to Columbus, Ohio, where for a time he demonstrated instruments in a music store. His freewheeling improvisations amused customers but eventually caused him to lose the job....


Liberace (16 May 1919–04 February 1987), entertainer, was born Wladziu Valentino Liberace in West Allis, Wisconsin, the son of Salvatore (Sam) Liberace, an often unemployed french horn player, and Frances Zuchowski, a coproprietor of a mom-and-pop grocery store. Liberace, called Walter at home, was a sole-surviving twin and the third of four children. By the age of four he could play by ear and at seven performed Paderewski’s Minuet in G for the composer, who advised the family to take the boy’s talent seriously. A scholarship to the Wisconsin College of Music in Milwaukee was awarded him in 1926....