For a mild-mannered man whose music was always easy on the ear, Nat King Cole managed to be a figure of considerable controversy during his 30 years as a professional musician. From the late '40s to the mid-'60s, he was a massively successful pop singer who ranked with such contemporaries as Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, and Dean Martin. He shared with those peers a career that encompassed hit records, international touring, radio and television shows, and appearances in films. But unlike them, he had not emerged from a background as a band singer in the swing era. Instead, he had spent a decade as a celebrated jazz pianist, leading his own small group.