Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Diving back into history may be delightful or dismaying. KNKX's Nick Morrison delivers a daily dose of it with his signature humor and skepticism. Here's what happened on this day.

March 17: St. Patrick's Day, a 135-year-old university and Nat King Cole's birthday

Nathaniel Cole, Nat "King" Cole, Nathaniel Cole, Maria Hawkins Ellington, Adam Clayton Powell Jr.
Jacob Harris
Nat "King" Cole of jukebox fame and singer Maria Hawkins Ellington are married in the Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York, in Harlem, March 28, 1948. Performing the ceremony is Rev. Adam Clayton Powell Jr., (D-NY), Congressman from Harlem. Harlem historians said the $17,500 wedding and reception was the most elaborate in Harlem since 1923.


The date of St. Patrick's death — 5th Century

Well, here’s a bulletin: St. Patrick was born in Britain, not Ireland. That might not be news to you but it certainly was to me. Apparently, some Irish pirates abducted Pat when he was a teenager (though this was way before teenagers existed as a demographic group). His six years of captivity resulted in a lot of "spiritual development," to the point that he started to hear voices. They told him, sensibly enough, to get the hell out of there. They also told him that "a ship was ready."

Based on those frustratingly vague instructions, Paddy lit out. Long story short, he made it back to England, became a priest and returned to Ireland as a missionary, where he had his ups and downs but eventually became that nation’s patron saint.

Folks celebrate St. Patrick’s Day on March 17th because that’s supposedly the day he died, but I take that fact with a grain of salt. We’re talking about the 5th Century here, so I’d say it’s an approximate date, at best.

And as you and I both know, that story about Patrick banning snakes from Ireland is a lot of hooey. It says, right there in Wikipedia, that “Post-glacial Ireland never had snakes,” and Patrick was definitely (and probably proudly) post-glacial. Though not by much, from where I stand.

University of Puget Sound founded — 1888

Congratulations to the University of Puget Sound which celebrates its 135th birthday today in Tacoma’s lovely North End neighborhood. To be clear, today is not the day the school opened its doors—it’s the date that it filed its charter at the state capitol in Olympia. The doors first opened to a whopping 88 students in 1890.

Originally called ‘The Puget Sound University,’ the school when through a couple of name and location changes before settling in its current location in 1924.

(Personal Note to UPS—When I moved to Tacoma to work for this radio station, I lived 2 blocks away the east end of your beautiful campus, where I enjoyed many serene and refreshing walks. Thanks.)

Nat King Cole's Birthday — 1919

Earlier this century, I became friends with a warm, delightful, humorous man named Dick LaPalm, a record industry lifer who worked with Nat King Cole throughout Nat’s career and loved him unreservedly. Dick never spoke of Nat as "Nat" — always "Nathaniel."

By Dick’s account there was simply never a sweeter, more gifted human on the planet than his friend, Nathaniel. I spent one of the most riveting and satisfying evenings of my life in a Manhattan cigar lounge with Dick, as he reminisced about touring the racially-charged American South with Nat King Cole and the Duke Ellington Orchestra.

So I have it on the best authority that Nat King Cole was a wonderful man, as well as one of world’s most popular singers—and a jazz pianist of surpassing talent.

Cole began his recording career as a vocalist with "Sweet Lorraine" in 1940. Before that, though, he was known in the jazz world as the leader of the King Cole Trio—with guitarist Oscar Brown and bassist Wesley Prince. This drummerless trio was groundbreaking. And they played brilliantly together. In fact, Cole was so good, none other than Oscar Peterson would cite him as a major influence on his own nonpareil playing.

As Nathaniel’s singing became more popular, so did the trio. He was one of the first black Americans to host a national television show. In November of 1957, The Nat King Cole Show debuted on NBC. It was cancelled in December 1958 because it could never attract a national sponsor. Cole’s comment on the cancellation was, “Madison Avenue is afraid of the dark.”

But he didn’t need a weekly TV show to become one of the best-selling singers of his time. During his short life, he died at age 45 in 1965, he recorded over 150 singles and sold millions of albums—and his music is still popular today. His version of "The Christmas Song" has been one of the most beloved songs of the holiday season since he first recorded it in 1946.

For a sample of his music, we’re going to go way back to the early days of the original trio. The first song, "With Plenty Of Money And You" (1938) is just an excuse for the trio to flex its combined musical muscle. It comes out of gate swinging exuberantly and each of them plays wonderfully. You get a feel for what attracted Oscar Peterson to Cole’s improvisations. The second is the aforementioned "Sweet Lorraine." With, of course, lovely solos by Oscar and…Nathaniel.

Nick began working at KNKX as a program host in the late 1980’s and, with the exception of a relatively brief hiatus, has been with the station ever since. Along with his work as a Midday Jazz host, Nick worked for several years as KNKX’s Music Director. He is now the station’s Production Manager and also serves as a fill-in host on KNKX’s jazz and blues programs.
Related Content

Why Support KNKX?

You depend on KNKX for trusted, in-depth local news, music by knowledgeable hosts and enlightening NPR programs. We depend on members for more than half of our financial support.

Give Today