During her lifetime, Maria Hawkins Cole was often overshadowed by her famous husband, Nat “King” Cole and later by her daughter, Natalie. She died on July 10 at 89 and except for a few major media outlets she passed without notice.
Such should not have been the case for a woman who gladly sacrificed her budding career as a vocalist to raise her family and look after the public affairs of her husband.
Cole, who died of cancer and had been living in Ponte Vedra, Fla., was once a headliner with the Duke Ellington Orchestra and the Count Basie Band before relinquishing the stage, the recording studio, and television to Nat.
In fact, the last time she was in the news was last year when the kinescopes—the filmed versions of television shows—she saved of Nat’s brief shows were widely circulated and released by iTunes.
Cole was a statuesque singer with a voice many compared to Lena Horne and Billie Holiday, though Nancy Wilson or Carmen McRae may be better comparisons.
In 1948 she married Nat in Harlem in a highly publicized wedding and they settled in Hollywood where their fabulous home was among the tourists’ attractions.
A product of prominent lineage, including her aunt Charlotte Hawkins Brown, the founder of the Freeman Palmer Memorial Institute, a prestigious elite school for African Americans located in North Carolina, Cole bucked the traditional path of gentility when she sought the world of entertainment.
Even so, she was not ostracized by her family and they soon accepted her talent and promise.
These things were very apparent to Nat, who had just ended his first marriage, and he and Maria were inseparable as he rose to greater acclaim with each passing year of recordings, which virtually established Capitol Records.
Her survivors include three of her children, daughters Natalie, Timolin and Casey; six grandchildren; and a sister, Charlotte.