Cole was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 2007.
Cole began with piano at age six and released his first single in 1952. He went on to work with Grover Washington, Jr. and has had jingles played on Turner Classic Movies He was added to the Steinway list of artists in June 2006.
Cole moved to New York in 1951, where he studied at the Juillard School of Music and was influenced by John Lewis, Oscar Peterson and Teddy Wilson. He also credits Billy Eckstine as one major influence. "He was a fantastic entertainer," Cole recalls. "I learned so much from just watching and being around him."
Before launching his solo career, he went on to get a master’s degree at the New England Conservatory of Music and then spent several months on the road as a member of an Earl Bostic band that also included Johnny Coles and Benny Golson.
Cole grew up in Chicago. Visitors to his home included Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Lionel Hamptom.
He had planned a career with the NFL, but a hand injury interrupted this and he began playing and singing in Chicago clubs as a teenager. Although he was ready to hit the road at 18, his mother intervened and he continued his musical education at the Roosevelt Institute in Chicago before moving to New York.