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Arts Desk

Actor Dulé Hill Personifies the Talent, Grace, and Fire of Nat "King" Cole in New Play

Jazz pianist and singer Nat "King" Cole, the first African American to host his own TV variety show in 1956, was known for his great talent and his grace, even in the face of mistreatment and racial discrimination. WRTI’s Susan Lewis reports on a new play that explores what this grace must have cost him.

Lights Out: Nat "King" Cole is at People’s Light in Malvern, PA through December 3rd.

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Susan Lewis asks actor Dulé Hill about playing the title role in Lights Out: Nat "King" Cole.

Radio Script:

Music: "Unforgettable," sung by Nat "King" Cole 

Susan Lewis: Nat "King" Cole sang in premier venues, but was not welcome in white hotels. Millions bought his records but his upscale community in Los Angeles protested his move to the neighborhood. And his TV show lasted just over one year.

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Dulé Hill with WRTI's Susan Lewis.

Dulé Hill: He had all the material, the top notch artists, ratings were doing well, people were tuning in—but he still couldn’t get a national sponsor. How does that not make you crazy?

SL: Actor Dulé Hill, who plays the title role in Lights Out: Nat "King" Cole, marvels at the grace of Cole,  whose only public comment when his show ended was: “Madison Avenue is afraid of the dark.”

DH: Underneath grace, there’s always fire. That was what was interesting to me to explore.  

He had the top-notch artists, ratings were doing well, people were tuning in, but he still could not get a national sponsor.

SL: The story takes place on the evening of the last taping of his show. Co-author and director Patricia McGregor.

Patricia McGregor: The jewels of black culture can sometimes be celebrated without understanding the cost of the mining it took to get to that place. We put our own feelings about that into our imaginings of what he might have been feeling that night.

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Co-author and director Patricia McGregor discusses the new play, Lights Out: Nat "King" Cole. The work, co-written with Colman Domingo, explores the talent and grace of the famed jazz pianist and singer—and what that grace must have cost him.

SL: A night, and a life, in which music could be a vehicle for both fire and grace.

Music: "Nature Boy," sung by Nat "King" Cole

DH: That passion, that power...they would put it into their songs, their voices, the tunes they would play. That’s the fire that allowed them to extend the grace daily.

SL: Nat "King" Cole sold over 50 million albums for Capitol records, whose headquarters became known as "The House that Nat Built."