A Richmond Musician's Remarkable Find

Apr 30, 2021

Family histories aren’t always reliable.  Memory plays tricks, and some relatives are prone to boasting, but one suburban Richmond man now has proof.  His dad was telling the truth when he boasted about a famous jazz musician who wrote him a song. 

Richmond hip hop composer Zak Young was told his grandfather was friendw with Nat King Cole.

When he’s not creating websites for clients, Zak Young is sometimes hunkered down in a second floor bedroom of his Glen Allen home, surrounded by a collection of more than 700 records -- composing beats – elements for local hiphop artists like Rep.

A love of music was something Zak shared with his father.

“When my dad would take me shopping for CDs, I would always come to him with a handful of CDs and say, ‘I’m not sure which ones to get,’" he recalls.  "He would say, ‘Get them all!.’  You know I was buying rap CDs and tapes.  He didn’t really connect with that music, but he saw in me that same passion for music that he had.  I mean he was really into jazz.  He was really into classic rock, and he would eventually give me all his records, and I spent years exploring that.  I still have records upstairs of his that I haven’t gotten to.”

His grandfather, Paul Young, also loved music and had a nightclub in D.C. called the Romany Room.

“We’re talking about the 1940’s in Washington, D.C.  I guess at that time it would have been sort of like loungey and jazzy – that type of scene.  The most well-known act was Nat King Cole,” Zak Young says.

These were still segregated times in Washington.  White nightclubs didn’t usually hire Black artists, but Paul Young did, and Zak’s grandpa claimed he and Cole were close.

“When my dad was born, that would have been 1941, Nat King Cole was playing at my grandfather’s club and recorded a song for him to celebrate my dad’s birth.”

His father would actually sing the song, but Zak was skeptical, and it never occurred to him that the tune was recorded.

“I mean we live in an era when you can record stuff on your computer or your phone.  Obviously before that we had cassette tapes and everything else, but back in those days there was no way to easily record music.”

But as he combed through his father’s record collection, he came across an old single recorded at 78 revolutions per minute.  He didn’t have a stereo that could play it, so he sent the recording to a studio that converted it to a digital file.

“It was maybe a week later that they e-mailed me, and as soon as I played the file, it was the song that my father had been singing verbatim.”

Zak Young was thrilled to find proof of a family legend in his father's record collection.
Credit RadioIQ

Still unsure if this really was a Nat King Cole song never formally released, he tracked down an expert – Jordan Taylor – who coincidentally lived in Richmond.

“I said to him, ‘I think I have a one-off Nat King Cole record that no one has ever heard before,’ and he said, ‘Okay. Sure.  What makes you think that?’ I told him the back story, and he’s like, ‘Let me do a little research,’ and he got back to me pretty quickly and said, ‘You know what?  I looked at the historical records, and he actually did play in D.C. at that time.’  So I sent him a snippet of the recording, and he said, ‘It’s the real deal!’”

Of course Zak Young shared the news with his own son, Max, who plays clarinet and saxophone.  He was intrigued.

“I’m turning older now, so I’m interested more in my family," Max says.  "I think that’s really cool.”

The story inspired a trip to his grandfather’s grave and a long chat with his grandmother.  Jordan Taylor eventually arranged for the song to be released, and now Zak Young is sharing his own piece of family history – with you.