Maria Hawkins Cole, with her husband, Nat "King" Cole, died… (Associated Press )
Maria Hawkins Cole, a singer who performed with Duke Ellington and Count Basie before marrying Nat “King” Cole, has died. She was 89.
Cole, who had been living in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., died Tuesday of cancer, her family announced.
Born Maria Hawkins in Boston in 1922, she sang with Duke Ellington, the Mills Brothers, Count Basie and others before she met Nat “King” Cole, the jazz singer and pianist who broke barriers as a black entertainer on network television in the 1950s.
The couple married in 1948 in Harlem and later moved to Los Angeles. Their eldest daughter, Natalie, was born in 1950 and followed in her parents’ footsteps as a singer. Cole’s husband died of lung cancer in 1965.
Many of the original episodes of “The Nat ‘King’ Cole Show” featuring guests like Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, Sammy Davis Jr. and Harry Belafonte were released on iTunes last year.
“It’s about time,” Cole’s widow said in a 2011 interview with The Times.
“I have to tell you, in those days I didn’t realize how important some of those people were,” she said. “But as time went by it became clear what geniuses they were."
Cole’s survivors include three of her children, daughters Natalie, Timolin and Casey; six grandchildren; and a sister, Charlotte.
Services will be private.
A complete obituary will follow at latimes.com/obits.
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The Nat 'King' Cole Show' available for digital download on iTunes