Glades area legend ‘Nat-the-Cat’ honored

BELLE GLADE — The Glades area is filled with local icons who have helped establish the identity and culture of the area. Legendary disc jockey (DJ) “Nat-the-Cat” did not fall short of these standards because he set the tone for music and entertainment practitioners around the lake.

Joe “Nathaniel” Colbert was born in 1938 in West Palm Beach and moved to Belle Glade as a child. He matriculated through the Palm Beach County School District where he received his diploma. After graduation, Mr. Colbert attended Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) and marched in the Incomparable Marching 100. His collegiate tenure was cut short when he returned home to work and to marry the love of his life, the late Vernell Bridges-Colbert.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News/Telva Smith
DJ Nat-the-Cat caught in action curating culture, life and music.

Marquetta Beckford, from Belle Glade, is Mr. Colbert’s granddaughter and took on the task of being his caregiver after his wife’s death. She remembered his favorite mantra being “a word to the wise is efficient, but a fool should be wrapped on the head.”

Ms. Beckford could be seen often driving her grandfather around or running errands with him when he didn’t decide to switch her out for his amazing great grandchildren who loved going out and about the town with “Daddy.”

Mr. Colbert’s love for musicianship, entertaining, and feeding the hearts and minds of others is what led him to become a disc jockey. He was one of the first and only African American disc jockeys in the area working for WRBD and later WSWN. Nat-the-Cat could quiet down a prison row as inmates gathered to listen to his words and selections, the same way he could families and social events. The words and music he used to unite people lasted over thirty years until his retirement … but his name and influence spanned beyond his voice over the airwaves.

“He would come by and pick me up as a teenager when he was working at the radio station,” said DJ Chocolate Chip, from Belle Glade. “I was interested in music and he would take me to the radio station and he showed me the ropes,” he added. DJ Chocolate Chip said he eventually started traveling to cities around the Lake Okeechobee area with Mr. Colbert where he would play the music while Mr. Colbert talked. He went on to say that Mr. Colbert taught him about the bible, business, and gave him his name “Chocolate Chip.” Chocolate Chip said he gives Colbert one hundred percent credit for his transition to being a DJ because Mr. Colbert inspired and taught him everything he knows from being humble and generous to a family man.

On Saturday, June 22, the City of Belle Glade recognized Mr. Colbert with “Nat-the-Cat Day.” Mr. Colbert was given a key to the city and a special event was hosted on the Loading Ramp to honor his legacy. Many of the disc jockeys he mentored such as “DJ Chocolate Chip,” “DJ K-Love,” and “DJ Skinny” participated to honor his legacy.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News/Telva Smith
Colbert celebrating his 80th birthday last year with daughters (left to right) Z’etta Davis and Thelma Smith and sons and sister-in-law (left to right) Alvin and Sebastian Colbert and Gladys Kent.

“I’m so glad that we were able to celebrate his life and legend before he was called home,” said Belle Glade Mayor Steve Wilson. “That was so important for the community because we always say ‘give a person their flowers while they are here’ and we got to do that by proclaiming June 22 for Nat-the-Cat Day in Belle Glade,” he added.

Mr. Colbert’s disc jockey moniker was a euphemism for the many close encounters he had with death because cats have nine lives. But eight days after his celebration, on Sunday, June 30, 2019, he passed away. During the two-week span before the funeral, the city mourned and showered his family with love and support.

People from near and far showed to pay their respects to Mr. Colbert. Many residents and mourners shared stories of his quick and powerful one-liner quotes, while others remember the fun-filled nights at the skating rink when he would curate the music. The family, friends, and those impacted by his life were reassured of his excellent character because his legacy has been cemented in the hearts and minds of the community.

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