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Maria Hawkins Cole: Jazz singer and widow of Nat 'King' Cole


Maria Hawkins Cole, who died on 10 July at the age of 89, was a jazz singer who was married to Nat "King" Cole and was the mother of the singer Natalie Cole. Cole had a long singing career, performing with such jazz legends as Count Basie and Duke Ellington.

She was born Maria Hawkins in August 1922 in Boston, the daughter of a postal worker. In 1943 she married Spurgeon Ellington, a pilot during the Second World War with the Tuskegee Airmen. He was killed during a training flight after the war.

After she had a short stint singing with Count Basie, Duke Ellington took her on. She stayed with him until 1946, leaving to work at Club Zanzibar in New York as a curtain–raiser for The Mills Brothers. Nat Cole, who had divorced his first wife that year, was also on the bill with his jazz trio. The two were married in 1948.

They sang together throughout the 1950s, and she appeared with him in 1955 on Ed Sullivan's television show Toast Of The Town, and the following year The Nat "King" Cole Show became the first on American TV to be hosted by an African-American.

After her husband died from lung cancer in 1965, Cole created the Cole Cancer Foundation; she also continued singing and for a time hosted a chat show on local Los Angeles television.