RIP: Natalie Cole

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Posted January 1, 2016 by J Matthew Cobb in Features
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“Unforgettable” R&B and pop legend dies at the age 65

Natalie Cole, a nine-time Grammy award winning songstress with a storied forty-plus years in recorded music, died on Thursday evening — New Year’s Eve of 2015 — at Cedar Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles due to compilations from ongoing health issues, her family said in a statement. The cause of death is speculated to be congestive heart failure, but the legendary singer battled with a string of health complications and issues over the years, including kidney disease and hepatitis C.

“Natalie fought a fierce, courageous battle, dying how she lived … with dignity, strength and honor. Our beloved Mother and sister will be greatly missed and remain UNFORGETTABLE in our hearts forever,” wrote her son Robert Yancy and sisters Timolin and Casey Cole from a published portion of a joint family statement.

Born in Los Angeles, California to the parents of the legendary jazz crooner Nat King Cole and former jazz lounge singer Maria Cole, Cole came on the scene performing with her father on his NBC hit variety show as a little teen. She would later emerge from the shadows of her father by signing as a solo act with Capitol Records, the home of her father’s catalog. The label stood out in the ‘50’s for its opulent jazz and pop collection and was often dubbed by many jazz collectors and critics for being “the house that Nat built.” Shortly after her father’s untimely death in 1965, Cole would attend University of Massachusetts Amherst and briefly attended University of Southern California, finally transferring back to University of Massachusetts to finish her degree in child psychology in 1972.

Afterwards, Cole found herself returning back to music after linking up with Chicago preacher and aspiring songwriter Marvin Yancy and his partner, Chuck Jackson. She found herself signing with Capitol and instantly landed them a hit with the everlasting R&B hit, “This Will Be (An Everlasting Love).” Almost immediately, critics were comparing her style and vocal upper register with Aretha Franklin. The competition of the newcomer and the established titan even led to some pesky tabloids, pitting the two at each other and even creating a strain in their relationship. In David Ritz’s book Respect: The Life of Aretha Franklin, Cole told the author that the first time they met was at an industry banquet. “She gave me an icy stare and then turned her back on me. It took me weeks to recover. I mean, this is the woman whom I revere! She began this make-believe feud that I still don’t understand. I give her the highest respect – then, now and always.” Part of the reason behind Franklin’s bitterness towards Cole may have developed during the recording sessions of You, when “This Will Be” was originally submitted to her along with several other Jackson-Yancy tunes that eventually made its way on Cole’s record. Franklin turned down mostly all of the songs, including “This Will Be.” It would be a major hit on Cole, earning her a top ten hit and a Grammy award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. She also took home the coveted New Artist of the Year at the Grammys. The hits kept coming for Cole, including the title track off her debut album Inseparable — a number one R&B hit that also made its way to number 32 pop.

Cole’s next line of albums (Natalie, Unpredictable, Thankful) — with Yancy and Jackson at her side — kept her R&B hit regimen running, producing hit songs like “I’ve Got Love on My Mind” and the enduring soulful ballad “Our Love.” With all the instant success came the accolades including multiple Grammy nominations and a permanent spot on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1979, only a few years into her recording career.

By the late ‘70’s, after marrying Yancy and trying to balance her life as a new mother to Robert and a First Lady of his Fountain of Life Baptist Church in Chicago, Cole found herself struggling with substance abuse. Eventually her addiction to cocaine and heroin led to an immediate divorce in 1980. She found herself entering rehab in 1983 while her career was left in limbo. With Yancy passing away in 1985, Cole solowly made her way back up the charts with the top twenty hits “Jump Start” and “I Live for Your Love” landing on her Everlasting LP. “Pink Cadillac” (a swipe at Franklin’s “Freeway of Love”) also followed, giving her a No. 5 pop smash, her highest climb up the pop charts since “I’ve Got Love on My Mind.”

“Miss You Like Crazy,” a moving power ballad penned by the hit-making songwriters Michael Masser, Gerry Goffin and Preston Glass, was discovered on her Good to Be Back LP and also became a Top Ten hit and one of her last great ’80’s gems. But it wasn’t until she had the inspiration to do a throwback jazz record chronicling the works of her father that Cole decided to reinvent herself. The album, Unforgettable…With Love, got the blessing of Elektra Records and found her reimagining classics like “L-O-V-E,” “Mona Lisa,” “The Very Thought of You” and “Straighten Up and Fly Right.” It was indeed the album’s title track, a huge staple inside her father’s library music, that wowed the masses. Thanks to new technology, Cole was able to virtually sing alongside her late father, creating a lush duet for the ages. The crossover album spawned six Grammy wins, including Album of the Year and would be certified seven times platinum by the RIAA.

Cole continued to record throughout much of the 1990’s and early 2000’s, although the hits were starting to dry up. A second jazz album, 2008’s Still Unforgettable, this time a disc covering other singers like Frank Sinatra and Lena Horne, also earned yet another Grammy win. In the final years, health setbacks began to plague much of her touring, while an autobiography, a made-for-television bio-pic and later remarrying and divorcing Kenneth Dupree, a church bishop, kept her name in the headlines.

Cole, whose father had roots in Montgomery, Alabama, was scheduled to perform at the University of Alabama Birmingham’s Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center for the 2016 Winter/Spring season in February. For exclusive patrons, there was even Valentine’s themed dinner and performance package available, which included a four-course dinner with cocktails and champagne along with valet parking and premium seating for Cole. Her unfortunate passing leaves a shattering void in the Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center concert lineup, causing event planners to re-arrange the event at the last minute with the booking of R&B crooner Brian McKnight. According to a December press release from UAB, Cole was “canceled her planned tour due to a medical procedure that precipitated a lengthy hospital stay.” Ticketholders for Cole may use this credit for the replacement McKnight performance or for another ASC-presented performance.

HIFI PLAYLIST: Natalie Cole / Spotify

Featuring the hits, joyous B-sides and deep rare cuts from Cole’s amazing catalog. Compiled by the editors at HiFi Magazine.


About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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