First African American : Nat King Cole
Nat King Cole is considered to be one of the greatest jazz pianist of all time. He played his first performance at the age of 4 years old. At 12 he was a church organist and he created his own band at the age of 16. He started out as a jazz pianist, performing with two other musicians and playing for the public in various venues. He was asked one day to sign by one the patrons one night and people took notice and he got a record deal that led him to record popular classics such as "The Christmas Song" and "Unforgettable". In 1956, he became the host of the Nat King Cole Show on NBC. It was a controversial show because it was the first time an African American starred on a variety show. The show lasted a year. Cole pulled the plug because of the financial pressures of running a show without national sponsorship. He continued to create hits and selling millions of record around the world until he passed away from lung cancer, most likely caused by his heavy smoking habits, at the age of 45. Several years later, Nat King Cole was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Down Beat Jazz Hall of fame, the Hit Parade Hall of Fame and the Latin Songwriters Hall of Fame. He was also awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.