WASHINGTON — Freddy Cole, a pianist and balladeer who long performed in the shadow of his older brother Nat ‘‘King’’ Cole but enjoyed a late-career blossoming with four Grammy nominations and the jaunty number ‘‘I’m Not My Brother, I’m Me’’ as his anthem, died June 27 in Atlanta. He was 88.
Nat Cole, a dozen years Freddy’s senior, was a towering jukebox star of jazz and popular music who sold more than 50 million records before his death from lung cancer in 1965 at age 45. He also lent his cool-cat charisma and warm-velvet voice to the new medium of TV, becoming in 1956 the first Black performer to host a nationally televised variety program.
By contrast, Freddy Cole — whose vocal texture was eerily similar to his brother’s — spent decades in relative obscurity, playing in lounges and hotels with an understated, languid charm. An early album was pointedly called ‘‘The Cole Nobody Knows.’’ From his base in Atlanta, he fronted trios and quartets that played much of his brother’s repertoire, inviting comparisons that made it difficult for Mr. Cole to form a distinct identity.
‘‘Everything has its own bottom. I sit on mine. Nat sat on his,’’ he told the New York Times in 1978. ‘‘Club owners have always wanted me to do Nat’s songs. I tell them I’m not my brother — I’m me.’’
He was pushing 60 when he began more forcefully to assert his musical independence with the 1990 record ‘‘I’m Not My Brother, I’m Me.’’ The title song, wry and bluesy, featured a lyric that put Freddy at the center of the Cole musical legacy:
‘‘I’m here to entertain you in my own special way.
‘‘Hey, if Nat sounds like me — well, what can I say?’’
Shortly thereafter, Mr. Cole played on saxophonist Grover Washington Jr.’s 1994 album ‘‘All My Tomorrows,’’ including the Stevie Wonder-penned number ‘‘Overjoyed.’’ ‘‘It was a most important thing to happen to me, to bring me up front with a lot of people who weren’t aware of what I was doing,’’ Mr. Cole told The Washington Post.
He was signed by progressively larger labels. In 1999, critic David Hajdu wrote a tribute to Mr. Cole in the Times praising his ‘‘impeccable sense of swing’’ and calling him ‘‘the most maturely expressive male jazz singer of his generation, if not the best alive.’’
Mr. Cole earned Grammy nominations for Best Jazz Vocal Album with ‘‘Merry Go Round’’ (2000), ‘‘Music Maestro Please’’ (2007), ‘‘Freddy Cole Sings Mr. B’’ (2010), and ‘‘My Mood Is You’’ (2018).