Antoine L. Collins is an Ottawa singer and actor who, this week, has released his second album Nature Boy: The Music of Nat King Cole. The album launch party will take place at the celebrated Mercury Lounge this Saturday March 17.
Antoine’s soft baritone voice matches that of the great Nat King Cole, and I wonder whether just like the master himself, Antoine discovered his ability to move and enchant the audiences with his voice by chance. Nat Cole started playing the piano from a very young age, learning from his mother, and initially he was interested in playing Jazz instrumentals only. As the legend goes, when Nat was touring the Los Angeles club scene with his band in 1938, an inebriated bar fly demanded for him to sing. Nat refused at first until the club owner Bob Lewis insisted “sing or else.” Nat sang what became one of his classics “Sweet Lorraine“, and the whole club was so impressed by his performance that Bob Lewis placed a tinsel crest on Nat’s head, crowing him Nat “King” Cole.
Love was the key component of Nat King Cole’s philosophy, and listening to Antoine L. Collins, you get a sense that love, indeed, plays a major role in his attitude towards life too.
Antoine L. Collins has been active in plays and the musical theater scene for some time, especially Orpheus Musical Theatre Society here in Ottawa. Ragtime, A Chorus Line, RENT, Little Shop of Horrors and Hairspray being some of the shows he has been involved with. As part of the Black History Month in 2017, he sang at the American Embassy in Ottawa. His connection with the United States stems from his time in Gary, Indiana, outside of Chicago, where he was born.
However, Antoine’s relationship with Nat King Cole goes deeper than their country of birth: they both have a way of uniting you with the bigger universal ideals that concern humanity, and through their songs they allow you to find your way back to the roots of happiness, joy as well as sadness, melancholy and heartache. Love was the key component of Nat King Cole’s philosophy, and listening to Antoine L. Collins, you get a sense that love, indeed, plays a major role in his attitude towards life too.
Nat King Cole had a tumultuous life, full of struggles, and his African American ancestry contributed a great deal to his battles in mid 20th century American society. He sold more than 50 million records in his lifetime, yet he could not stay at certain hotels because of his race. He became the first African American entertainer to have his own television show, yet the whole neighbourhood got together to evict him from the home he had legally purchased. When Nat King Cole performed in Birmingham, Alabama, a group of men from North Alabama Citizens Council, a faction of KKK, attempted to kidnap him from the stage causing him bodily harm. When he protested his disbelief at the racism with which he was being treated in the south, some writers attacked him for being too soft on the Jim Crow laws. Even though he was being criticized, he became a lifetime member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, playing an important part in the American civil rights movement and the March on Washington.
Nat King Cole was the epitome of a man fighting back prejudice, misperceptions, bias and injustice with art. Love flowed through his voice and lyrics, and like ripples on water they gave birth to love in proceeding generations of artists and music lovers.
You ask whether we need another album of his music today? I say take a listen to what Antoine L. Collins presents as the most important line on the song Nature Boy, from the album that also bears that title:
The greatest thing you’ll ever learn,
Is just to love and be loved in return.
The Nature Boy Album Release show will take place Saturday March 17 at Mercury Lounge (56 ByWard Market Square). Tickets are available on Eventbrite for $15. Doors at 7pm, show at 8pm. The album is available from iTunes, Spotify, and from Compact Music stores in Ottawa.