Maria Cole, wife of Nat 'King' Cole, dies

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BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Maria Hawkins Cole, wife of the late jazz crooner Nat "King" Cole and mother of singer Natalie Cole, has died in south Florida from cancer. She was 89.

A family representative confirmed that she died Tuesday at a Boca Raton hospice, surrounded by her family.

Before and after marrying the famed singer and piano player, Maria Cole had her own long singing career, performing with Count Basie, Duke Ellington and other greats.

Born in Boston in 1922, she lived as a child in North Carolina after her mother died, according to a statement from the family. She later moved to New York to pursue a music career. According to her family, Ellington heard recordings of Maria Cole singing and hired her as a vocalist with his orchestra. She stayed with him until 1946, when she began soloing at the city's Club Zanzibar as an opening act for the Mills Brothers.

There she met Nat "King" Cole.

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The two were married in 1948 by then-U.S. Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. at Harlem's Abyssinian Baptist Church.

Cole traveled and performed with her husband throughout the '50s. After he died from cancer in 1965, she created the Cole Cancer Foundation.

Her children, Natalie, Timolin and Casey Cole, said in a joint statement: "Our mom was in a class all by herself. She epitomized, class, elegance, and truly defined what it is to be a real lady . . . She died how she lived -- with great strength, courage and dignity, surrounded by her loving family."

At the time of her death, Cole lived in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. Private services will be held in Glendale, Calif.

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