Maria Hawkins Cole, widow of jazz crooner Nat “King” Cole and mother of singer Natalie Cole, died Tuesday in Boca Raton, Fla., after a short battle with cancer. She was 89.
Before and after marrying the famed singer and piano player, Maria Cole had her own long singing career, performing with Count Basie and Duke Ellington, among others.
Born in Boston, she lived as a child in North Carolina after her mother died. She later moved to New York to pursue a music career.
According to her family, Ellington heard recordings of Maria Cole singing and hired her as a vocalist with his orchestra. She stayed with him until 1946, when she began soloing at the city’s Club Zanzibar as an opening act for the Mills Brothers. There she met Nat “King” Cole.
The two were married in 1948 by then-U.S. Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. at Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church.
Maria Cole traveled and performed with her husband throughout the 1950s. After her husband died from cancer in 1965, Maria Cole created the Cole Cancer Foundation.
Private services will be held in Glendale, Calif.
Survivors include children Natalie, Timolin and Casey Cole; six grandchildren; and a sister.