Nat King Cole's wife Maria dead at 90

July 11, 2012 at 11:05 PM
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BOCA RATON, Fla., July 11 (UPI) -- Maria Cole, wife of late music icon Nat "King" Cole and mother of singer Natalie Cole, died in Florida after a bout with cancer, her children said. She was 90.

Natalie, Timolin and Casey Cole said their jazz musician mother died Tuesday. At the time of her death she lived in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

"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," her daughters said in a joint statement.

Born Maria Hawkins in Boston in 1922, she was educated at Palmer Memorial Institute in North Carolina and went on to perform with jazz greats Count Basie, Fletcher Henderson and Duke Ellington.

She and Cole were married in 1948 by Adam Clayton Powell Jr. at Harlem's famous Abyssinian Baptist Church. The couple spent the 1950s traveling throughout Europe performing and recording songs for Capitol Records.

After her husband died of cancer in 1965, she produced plays, sang on the "Ed Sullivan Show" and created the Cole Cancer Foundation, her children noted.

She worked for the National Kidney Foundation, the Urban League and the Cardiac Research Foundation, Sloane Kettering Cancer Institute, American Cancer Society, Nat King Cole Memorial Fellowship at Tanglewood Music Center and Nat King Cole Generation Hope Inc., founded by her daughters, Timolin and Casey.

A private funeral service for Cole will be held at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, Calif., her family said.

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