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Nat King Cole Recordings Sold to Universal Music Group

The 1961-1964 recordings were previously held by Cole's estate under a deal he negotiated with his label Capitol Records.

Universal Music Group quietly acquired about 200 recordings by Nat King Cole from the iconic singer’s estate in January 2021, the company revealed Thursday (March 17), bringing all of his recordings under UMG ownership.

The songs, recorded between 1961 and 1964, were previously licensed to Capitol Records — now owned by UMG — under a deal Cole negotiated following his rise to fame. His earlier recordings, also of about 200 songs, were all originally released on Capitol Records as well.


The agreement was first reported by Forbes to be in the range of $10 to $20 million – a price range Billboard confirmed with a source familiar with the deal. Recordings included in the acquisition include such iconic songs as “Nature Boy,” “Mona Lisa,” “Unforgettable,” “The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas To You),” “L-O-V-E,” “Smile” and “When I Fall In Love.”

Also on Thursday, UMG revealed that on Friday (March 18) it will release Capitol Rarities (Vol. 1), a collection of 14 tracks by Cole. The set includes five Cole recordings that were previously unavailable on streaming platforms: “The Magic Tree,” “Early American,” “The Day Isn’t Long Enough,” “My First and My Last Love” and “Easter Sunday Morning.”

The UMG deal follows last week’s announcement that Irving Azoff’s Iconic Artists Group purchased rights to all assets from Cole’s estate, including his recorded music, publishing, TV shows and name and likeness. That deal and the UMG acquisition are being billed as part of an effort to expand Cole’s legacy to new generations. Last year, UMG released an album of the singer’s classic Christmas songs featuring “duets” with contemporary artists including John Legend, Kristin Chenoweth and Gloria Estefan.

Cole started his career as a jazz and classical piano player and signed his first record deal with Capitol in 1943. His debut album with The King Cole Trio was released in 1945 and hit No. 1 on Billboard’s very first album chart. His success helped lead to the construction of the iconic Capitol Records Tower in Hollywood, which became colloquially known as “The House That Nat Built.” His other hits include “The Very Thought of You,” “Straighten Up and Fly Right” and “Stardust.”

In 1959, Cole won the Grammy for best performance by a “Top 40” Artist for the song “Midnight Flyer.” Following his death in 1965 at age 45, he was posthumously honored with a lifetime achievement award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences and inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Other recent catalog purchases by UMG include the entirety of Neil Diamond’s song and master recording catalogs and Sting’s song catalog, both in February. In December 2020, in what is widely believed to be the biggest deal ever for a single songwriter, the company purchased Bob Dylan’s entire song catalog, including both publishing rights and Dylan’s writer’s share.