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Nature Boy (1948)

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Origin and Chart Information

The publisher of the Yiddish song on which “Nature Boy” was based sued and settled out of court.

- Sandra Burlingame

Rank 115
Words and Music Eden Ahbez

Nat “King” Cole introduced this unusual tune, based on a Yiddish song “Schwieg Mein Hertz” (Be Still My Heart), in 1948, when it leaped to number one in the charts for 18 weeks:


Chart information used by permission from
Joel Whitburn's Pop Memories 1890-1954

The composer of “Nature Boy,” eden ahbez (no capitals per his request), was born Alexander Aberle in Brooklyn in 1908. The original sheet music of the song shows a photo of ahbez-long hair and beard, an almost Christ-like figure, highly unusual for the 1940s. In some respects, ahbez was the prototypical hippie twenty years ahead of his time, for in addition to his appearance he lived a simple life, wore a robe and sandals, was a vegetarian, and even was reputed to be living with his wife under the “L” letter of the famous “HOLLYWOOD” sign.


More on Eden Ahbez at JazzBiographies.com

Early in his life Aberle and his 12 siblings were orphaned, some sent to a foster home in Kansas. Alexander didn’t stay long and embarked on a wandering life, eventually ending up in Los Angeles. In 1947 he left a tattered manuscript of his composition “Nature Boy” backstage at a Nat “King” Cole performance. Cole liked the tune and subsequently recorded it for Capitol. The label’s executives, however, didn’t know what to think about it and held off releasing the record. Yet Cole believed in the song and its simple message, and live performances proved the song’s appeal to the public. Eventually the Capitol hierarchy released Cole’s recording and the rest is history, as it’s said.

Many in the music biz refer to people like eden as a “one hit wonder,” and, even though he did write a few more songs and recorded an album in the early 1960s, none of his compositions drew much attention. He continued to live in his simple way and died, in 1995 at age 86, after being struck by a car.

His unusual story and life still capture the public’s fancy, and a television special filmed in 2000 dealt with “Nature Boy” and eden’s experience with Nat “King” Cole.

More information on this tune...

Thomas S. Hischak
The Tin Pan Alley Song Encyclopedia
Greenwood Press
Hardcover: 552 pages

(In his encyclopedia Hischak covers the history of the song, its performers, and films in which it has been featured.)

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

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