Though you may not have realized, Maria Cole, wife of legendary singer Nat King Cole, and mother to daughter Natalie Cole, was a successful jazz singer in her own right.
Originally, from Boston, Massachusetts, Maria Hawkins was born in 1922. After her mother died, she spent most of her childhood in North Carolina and eventually moved to New York to pursue a singing career.
Duke Ellington heard recordings of Maria and hired her as a vocalist for his orchestra. She sang with Ellington and until 1946 when she broke out on her own performing in New York City clubs as the opening act for the Mills Brothers. It was during this time that she met Nat.
The couple were married in 1948 by Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Maria continued touring and performing with her husband in the ’50s and created the Cole Cancer Foundation after Nat lost his battle with lung cancer in 1965.
In an interview with Ebony magazine, the couple explained why they adopted their daughter, Maria’s biological niece, Carol, also known”Cookie” and “Kelly,” in 1949. Natalie was born in 1950 and the couple’s twins, Timolin and Casey were born in 1961. Carol would later pass away from lung cancer in 2009, around the same time Natalie was undergoing a kidney transplant.
Maria passed away from a short battle with cancer on Tuesday at a hospice in Boca Raton. At the time of her death she was surrounded by her family members.
Aside from her three children, Maria is survived by a sister, two sons-in-law and six grandchildren.
Natalie and her siblings released a joint statement regarding their mother’s life and death:
“Our mom was in a class all by herself. She epitomized class, elegance, and truly defined what it is to be a real lady.
We are so blessed and privileged to have inherited the legacy that she leaves behind along with our father. She died how she lived – with great strength, courage and dignity, surrounded by her loving family.”
Maria Cole’s private services will be held in Glendale, California.
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