Nature Boy – Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald and Connie Evingson versions

“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn
Is just to love and be loved in return”

Here are the Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald and Connie Evingson versions of “Nature Boy”, a song written in 1947 by the American songwriter and recording artist George Alexander Aberle, commonly known as eden ahbez (15 April 1908 – 4 March 1995).

Aberle adopted the name “eden ahbez,” choosing to spell his name with lower-case letters, claiming that only the words God and Infinity were worthy of capitalization. He is also said to have desired the A and Z (alpha and omega), the beginning and the end, in his surname.

eden ahbez with Nat King Cole
eden ahbez with Nat King Cole

The song first recorded by American jazz singer Nat King Cole. It was released on March 29, 1948, as a single by Capitol Records, and later appeared on the album, The Nat King Cole Story. It is a tribute to ahbez’s mentor Bill Pester, who had originally introduced him to Naturmensch and Lebensreform philosophies, which ahbez practised. When Cole was performing in 1947 at the Lincoln Theater, ahbez wanted to present the song to him, but was ignored. He left the copy with Cole’s valet, and from him the singer came to know of “Nature Boy”. After receiving appreciation for his performance of the song, Cole wanted to record it.

The recording took place on August 22, 1947, and featured an orchestra conducted by Frank De Vol—the in-house arranger of Capitol Records. He used strings and flute as instrumentation in the song, to capture the “enchanting” vibe of the track. The lyrics are a self-portrait of ahbez and his life. The final line – “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn, Is just to love and be loved in return” – is considered a poignant moment in the song, with multiple interpretations of it. “Nature Boy” was released amidst the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) ban of 1948, but became commercially successful, reaching the top of the Billboard music charts and selling over a million copies. Receiving critical acclaim also, “Nature Boy” helped to introduce Cole to a wider audience, especially the white music market, and generated royalties for ahbez. In 1999, the song was awarded the Grammy Hall of Fame Award. However, “Nature Boy” was also the subject of lawsuits, with Yiddish composer Herman Yablokoff claiming that it was plagiarized from his song “Shvayg mayn harts” (“Hush My Heart”), which he wrote for his play Papirosn (1935). In the end, ahbez and Yablokoff settled out of court.

Here it is sung by eden ahbez himself.

Lyrics

There was a boy
A very strange enchanted boy
They say he wandered very far
Very far, over land and sea

A little shy and sad of eye
But very wise was he

And then one day, a magic day
He passed my way, and while we spoke
Of many things, fools and kings
This he said to me

“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn
Is just to love and be loved in return”

“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn
Is just to love and be loved in return”

Sources