Nat Shilkret was born to a musical family in New York City in 1889. His father played almost every instrument, and made certain that Nat and his three brothers were all accomplished musicians at an early age.
He joined the Foreign Department of the Victor Talking Machine Company (later RCA Victor) around 1915, and soon was made manager of the department.
In 1926 he became "director of light music" for Victor. He made thousands of recordings, possibly more than anyone in recording history. His son Arthur estimated the sales of these records was of the order of 50 million copies. He was the conductor of choice for many of Victor's innovative recordings. He conducted Victor's first record made by the electrical process, the first commercial Victor Long Playing record (in 1931) and was the first conductor to successfully dub an electrically recorded orchestra background over the recordings of Enrico Caruso, Victor's star artist, who died in 1921, before electrical recording was developed. The premiere recording of George Gershwin's symphonic poem An American in Paris, in 1929, was one of five conducted by Shilkret that eventually earned Grammy Awards.
Between his conducting for records and for radio, virtually every musical star of the day performed under the baton of Nathaniel Shilkret. His orchestra members included Jimmy Dorsey, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Glenn Miller, and Artie Shaw.