nat king cole's humiliation -- 10/12/18

Today's selection -- from Nat King Cole by Daniel Mark Epstein. Nat King Cole achieved fame and wealth at an early age, and in 1948 paid a return visit to his old high school:

"Nathaniel wished to return to his high school, Wendell Phillips, to see old friends and share memories. Roy Topper of the Herald-American reported that 'Nat King Cole, a local boy who made good, is trying to squeeze in a visit to the two high schools he attended here -- Phillips and DuSable. He hasn't seen either of them since he was a youngster.' If the record clerk's word can be trusted, Nat never saw the inside of DuSable at all. Two months after Cole quit school in November of 1934, a fire closed Phillips, and Nat's schoolmates all transferred to nearby DuSable, where they graduated in 1936.

Nat King Cole, June 1947

"According to classmate Tim Black, there was an alumni gathering at DuSable High School that February while Nat was in town. And the famous singer and pianist, the 'boy who made good,' joined his old friends and classmates for the festivities. He was quite gracious, remem­bering names and details about their lives. Some envied him. Nat was having a wonderful time in the warmth of sentiment and nostalgia until someone disappeared from the room and then reappeared, at which point the whispering started. Evidently somebody thought it important to uphold the dignity of the alumni by distinguishing the true graduates of Phillips and DuSable from the fly-by-nights and high school drop­outs. Scuttling downstairs and into the file room this person diligently brought up Nathaniel Coles's records. You see, he did not graduate ever, the whisperers whispered, and eventually the cause of the commotion got back to the famous man. 'He was embarrassed, humiliated,' Tim Black recalls. 'As he left you could see he was deeply hurt.'"



Daniel Mark Epstein


Nat King Cole


Farrar, Straus and Giroux


Copyright 1999 by Daniel Mark Epstein


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