Natalie Cole was born in Los Angeles, California, on February 6, 1950, to singers Nat King Cole and Maria Cole. Although she didnâ€™t plan on a singing career, she took a summer job singing with a band in 1972. Albums soon followed, as well as two Grammy Awards for her debut album, Inseparable(1975). After a bout with addiction, Cole returned in the 1990s withUnforgettableâ€¦ with Love, featuring renditions of songs previously sung by her father. Cole died in 2015 at the age of 65.
Natalie Maria Cole was born on February 6, 1950, to vocal legend Nat King Cole and jazz singer Maria Cole in Los Angeles, California. Growing up with talented and renowned parents, Cole was raised in an environment that nurtured her natural musical ability. At the age of 6, she recorded â€œIâ€™m Good Will, Your Christmas Spiritâ€ with her father, and by age 11, the young songstress had begun performing in the community.
Natalie Coleâ€™s world suddenly changed when she was 15 years old: In February 1965, her father died of cancer. The tragedy put a strain on Coleâ€™s relationship with her mother. Later that same year, her mother moved the family to Massachusetts, where Natalie attended Northfield Mount Hermon High School.
Although a career in music would be an obvious choice for Cole, she set her sights on something different: Following high school, she enrolled at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she majored in child psychology. She briefly transferred to the University of Southern California, where she pledged the Upsilon Chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. Her time at USC was short-lived, however, as she soon transferred back to the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she earned a bachelorâ€™s degree in 1972.
Cole, who had begun performing again over a summer break in Amherst, at a venue called â€œThe Pub,â€ met the writing and producing team of Chuck Jackson and Marvin Yancy in 1975. The duo helped Cole land a deal with Capitol Records and, later that year, create the album Inseparable. With hit songs such as â€œThis Will Be (An Everlasting Love),â€ the album exploded onto the music scene, earning the young starlet her first two Grammy Awardsâ€”for best new artist and best female R&B performance.
Coleâ€™s career took flight, and throughout the 1970s, she turned out four gold and two platinum records. Her thirdâ€”and first platinumâ€”album,Unpredictable (1977), donned yet another No. 1 R&B hit: â€œIâ€™ve Got Love on My Mind.â€
In 1979, Cole was awarded her very own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, both signifying and solidifying her prowess as a performer.
Cole hit a lull in her career in the early 1980s due to her struggle with drug addiction, subsequently parting ways with Capitol Records. She began recording again after a stint in rehab in 1983, and was back on the charts with a megahit by the mid-â€™80s: â€œPink Cadillac.â€
In 1991, Cole released the career-defining album for which she is best known, Unforgettableâ€¦ with Love. Her debut album with Elektra Records,Unforgettable pays tribute to her father, featuring many beautiful renditions of standards previously recorded by Nat King Cole. The albumâ€™s breakout single, â€œUnforgettable,â€ features a track dubbed over a previous Nat King Cole recording, as to create the sound of a father-daughter duet. The album sold more than 7 million copies and garnered several honors, including the coveted Grammy for album of the year.
The â€™90s saw Cole release many other popular albums, including Snowfall on the Sahara and The Magic of Christmas (both released in 1999), an album of holiday standards recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra. Cole also launched her acting career before the end of the decade, appearing on television series of the time.
In 2001, Cole starred as herself in Livinâ€™ for Love: The Natalie Cole Story, a TV-movie adaptation ofÂ her 2000 autobiography, Angel on my Shoulder. The book has been described as an exposÃ© of the private struggle that accompanied Coleâ€™s rise to fame. Also in 2000, Elektra released Natalie Cole: Greatest Hits, Vol. 1, an album highlighting the singerâ€™s career.
Coleâ€™s 2008 release, Still Unforgettable, was well-received, winning the singer yet another Grammy, this time for best traditional pop vocal album
The Multiple Grammy-winning recording artist Natalie Cole was just 8 years old when her father, legendary crooner Nat King Cole, recorded his first album in Spanish, scoring an unexpected international smash in 1958. Her fatherâ€™s foreign-language success was a culturally captivating experience for little Natalie, who got to travel outside the country for the first time with her famous father. She vividly recalls a trip to Mexico during which she saw her first piÃ±ata, posed for pictures â€œas a seÃ±oritaâ€ in folkloric dress, and most memorably, witnessed first-hand the adulation and esteem that Latin American fans showed for the King, a pioneering African-American superstar.
VIDEO: Natalie Cole Dead â€“ Singer natalie cole age 65 dies â€” Natalie Cole, American Singer
â€œThey loved, loved, loved him,â€ she recalls. â€œAnd I loved what he loved. So
I fell in love with the culture.â€Â Now, 55 years later, the accomplished R&B and jazz vocalist breaks new ground of her own with her first Spanish-language album, â€œNatalie Cole En EspaÃ±ol,â€ released June 25 on Verve/Universal. In this, her first new studio album in five years, Natalie revisits the rich repertoire of ageless Latin standards that once opened new vistas for her father. The 12 lushly orchestrated tracks, produced by Rudy Perez, Billboardâ€™s Latin Music Producer Of The Decade, features Natalieâ€™s distinctive take on some classics from her fatherâ€™s catalog, plus several other carefully chosen selections from the Latin American Songbook.
The album features a haunting father/daughter duet on the sensual bolero â€œAcÃ©rcate Mas,â€ employing the same recording techniques used for their posthumous pairing on 1991â€™s â€œUnforgettable,â€ which won Record of the Year for the singer and producer David Foster. Now, as chairman of Verve Music Group, Foster was instrumental in bringing to fruition Natalieâ€™s long-time dream of making a Latin album.
This project, which Natalie has envisioned for at least the past decade, marks a stunning accomplishment for an artist who has never before sung in Spanish. Although her new album borrows the Pan-American spirit and the alliterative title of the Nat Cole original, Natalieâ€™s personal, committed performance earns the right to stand on its own.
â€œThis album is not so much a tribute to my father as it is to Latin music,â€ she says. â€œMy whole thing was, if Iâ€™m going to do this as a first-timer, a non-Spanish-speaking American, I need to pay tribute to the music. I need to honor it because Iâ€™m not entitled to just sing it any kind of way. I have a duty to make it real, to pick authentic, beautiful, traditional Latin songs. And thatâ€™s what we went for.â€
The road to making this record, however, was far from easy. Natalie, like her father, had many obstacles to overcome.
Nat King Cole was a trailblazer. He went from playing LA beer joints for $5 per night to scoring chart-topping hits (â€œRamblinâ€™ Rose,â€ â€œThe Christmas Song,â€ â€œMona Lisaâ€) that put him on a par with superstar peers such as Frank Sinatra. Starting as a jazz pianist in the 1940s, his King Cole Trio was the first African-American act to have a sponsored network radio show. And in 1956, he became the first African-American performer to have his own network television show, on NBC. He also appeared in films, including the comedy Western â€œCat Ballou,â€ completed just before his death. In its obituary, The New York Times called him â€œone of the most durable figures in American popular music.â€ Yet, even as an established celebrity, Cole faced racism at home and abroad. He wasnâ€™t allowed to perform in certain clubs, especially in the South, and in 1948, when he bought a new home in LAâ€™s upscale Hancock Park neighborhood, racial epithets were left in his yard, his dog was poisoned and neighbors signed a petition against â€œundesirables.â€ (To which he famously responded that heâ€™d be the first to report any undesirables if he found them.)
Despite all the adversity, Cole continued to build his remarkable career. His pioneering foray into Latin music set a bilingual trend that would be imitated by many of his fellow American singers. Cole made his first Spanish record, 1958â€™s â€œCole EspaÃ±ol,â€ at the urging of his Honduras-born manager, Carlos Gastel. Its success led to two well-received sequels, â€œA Mis Amigosâ€ (1959) and â€œMore Cole EspaÃ±olâ€ (1962). The trio of hit albums on Capitol Records added â€œcultural ambassadorâ€ to his accomplishments. He was embraced by Latin American fans, despite his marked American accent in Spanish. They found his â€œgringoâ€ lingo endearing, because it underscored his effort at cultural outreach. In short, remarks Perez, Latinos loved him for trying.
Cole did not survive to see his daughter follow in his footsteps with her own solo career. He died of cancer in 1965 at age 45. Ten years later, Natalie won the first of her nine career Grammy Awards as Best New Artist of 1975, the year she debuted with the hit â€œThis Will Be,â€ which also won for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female. In 1991, her tribute album, â€œUnforgettableâ€¦ With Love,â€ won Album of the Year and marked a mid-career comeback.
In the wake of that albumâ€™s success, Natalie kicked around ideas for a follow-up, along with her cousin, Carole, who was also her adoptive sister. They wondered: â€œWhat else can we do that dad did that was kind of interesting and different?â€ Their answer: an album of Latin standards.
But hardship, loss and tragedy would get in the way before their plans could be finally realized.
Four years ago, Natalie was diagnosed with kidney failure and started getting dialysis treatments three times a week. Appearing on â€œLarry King Live,â€ she made an appeal for a kidney donor. Watching at home was a nurse named Esther who â€œserendipitouslyâ€ had been on duty at the hospital one day when Natalie was in for treatment. â€œOh, I took care of that lady,â€ the nurse told her niece, Jessica, who was also watching. â€œSheâ€™s so nice, I wish I could help her find a kidney.â€ Less than two months later, Jessica, who was only 30 years old and eight months pregnant, died unexpectedly of a stroke. Her aunt came forward and offered the kidney, because her niece was an organ donor. She was a perfect match with Natalie.
As fate would have it, the donor and her family were immigrants from El Salvador. The experience brought Natalie even closer to the culture.
â€œI wouldnâ€™t put it past the possibility that there is a spirit of Latino inside of me, because of this family,â€ says Natalie. â€œEver since then, my passion for Spanish and everything Latin, all of a sudden became more intense. I couldnâ€™t even figure it out myself.â€
Thereâ€™s one final coincidence to add to the saga. When Natalie got the news that a kidney was available, she was at bedside of her beloved sister, Carole, who was dying of cancer. Natalie had to rush into surgery and wasnâ€™t there when her sister passed away. The new album is also a tribute to her. â€œI know itâ€™s something that she would have loved as well,â€ says Natalie. â€œShe would be so proud.â€
Yet another family hardship came last year. Natalie lost her mother, Maria, who died of cancer at age 89. Under the stress of that difficult time, Natalie lost her appetite and a lot of weight. But she bounced back, as she has from all the challenges in her life. â€œYou know,â€ she says with a light laugh, â€œI may be down for a minute, but once I figure it out, I canâ€™t stay there for too long.â€
Perez, her Cuban-American producer, marvels at the energy and devotion Cole poured into the new project. At first, they hired a language coach who, coincidentally, is the daughter of the late Olga Guillot, a revered Cuban singer who had coached Nat Cole during his Havana sessions. But the language came so naturally to Natalie, they decided formal coaching was superfluous.
â€œI found out she has an incredible ability to sing in Spanish phonetically, as you can hear on the album,â€ says Perez. â€œI couldnâ€™t believe it, she was so goodâ€¦She could roll her â€œrâ€™sâ€, just unbelievable.â€
Natalie says her relationship with Perez was â€œsimpÃ¡ticoâ€ from the start. She calls it â€œa perfect partnering.â€ Perez, president of the newly formed Latin Songwriters Hall of Fame, sent over 120 songs for Natalie to consider. He gave her background on all the tunes and their composers, then later screened clips for her from classic black-and-white movies where some songs were featured.
â€œRudy had a story for every song,â€ says Cole, still with excitement.
â€œI mean his knowledge of Latin music is huge. So itâ€™s been educational as well as pleasurable.â€
The abundance of riches made the process of elimination excruciating. In the end, a balance was struck between songs her father had recorded (Cubaâ€™s â€œQuizÃ¡s, QuizÃ¡s, QuizÃ¡s,â€ Mexicoâ€™s â€œNoche de Rondaâ€) and others specifically chosen for Natalie (Argentinaâ€™s â€œEl DÃa Que Me Quieras,â€ Brasilâ€™s â€œMaÃ±ana de Carnavalâ€). Latin standards such as â€œBÃ©same Mucho,â€ featuring Andrea Bocelli, will be familiar to music lovers everywhere. And Americans are sure to recognize the melodies of songs popularized in English, especially Maria Greverâ€™s â€œCuando Vuelva A Tu Lado (What a Diffâ€™rence a Day Makes).â€
Finally, of course, who doesnâ€™t recognize â€œOye Como Va,â€ the Carlos Santana/Tito Puente salsa/rock hit? It was Natalieâ€™s personal choice, which Perez turned into a four-song tropical medley featuring the piano of guest artist Arthur Hanlon. â€œBachata Rosa,â€ another more recent upbeat dance tune, features a duet with its contemporary composer, Dominican superstar Juan Luis Guerra.
The end result is a win-win, in any language.
â€œIâ€™m very proud of this album and I think it does speak for itself.â€
Natalie Cole Career Highlights
- Natalie Cole rocketed to stardom in 1975 with her debut album, Inseparable, earning her a #1 single, â€œThis Will Be (An Everlasting Love)â€ and her first two GrammyÂ® awards for Best New Artist and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance
- In 1977, Cole scored a No. 1 R&B hit with â€œIâ€™ve Got Love on My Mindâ€ from her third release, Unpredictable, which became her first platinum album. Cole continued her winning streak that same year with her fourth album, Thankful, which also went platinum and featured another signature hit, â€œOur Love.â€
- The singer expanded her success with her own TV special in 1977. It was the first of more than 300 major television appearances in her career, including dramatic roles on â€œLaw and Orderâ€ and â€œTouched by an Angelâ€ as well as guest spots on talk shows with Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres, and Larry King.
- In 1979, Cole was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
- After overcoming personal challenges, Cole returned in peak form with 1987â€™s Everlasting, an album which garnered three hit singles: â€œJump Start (My Heart),â€ the Top 10 ballad â€œI Live For Your Love,â€ and her dance-pop cover of Bruce Springsteenâ€™s â€œPink Cadillac.â€
- Cole marked a career milestone in 1991 with the release of Unforgettableâ€¦With Love, featuring the celebrated duet with her late father, Nat King Cole. The album spent five weeks at No. 1 on the pop charts, earned six GrammyÂ® awards, and sold more than 14 million copies worldwide.
- In 1996, Cole released a follow-up album of American standards, Stardust, which featured another duet with her father on â€œWhen I Fall in Love.â€ The album went platinum and won another Grammy for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals.
- Subsequent albums, Snowfall on the Sahara (1999) and Ask a Woman Who Knows (2002), both merited the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Jazz Artist
- Cole took home her ninth career GRAMMYÂ® award for 2008â€™s Still Unforgettable, which won for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album. It also earned Natalie a NAACP Award for Best Jazz Artist.â€
- In 2001, she starred as herself in â€œLivinâ€™ for Love: the Natalie Cole Story,â€ based on her autobiography, Angel on My Shoulder, which detailed her harrowing drive to overcome drug addiction. She received the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special. As an actress, Natalie starred in director Delbert Mannâ€™s â€œLily in Winterâ€ and co-starred with Laurence Fishburne and Cicely Tyson in Walter Mosleyâ€™s â€œAlways Outnumbered
- Cole released a second memoir in 2010 titled â€œLove Brought Me Back,â€ the heart-wrenching chronicle of her quest for a kidney transplant.
- Natalie Cole now serves as spokesperson for the University Kidney Research Organization, a nonprofit organization supporting medical research related to the prevention, treatment, and eradication of all form of kidney disease.
- Compiled by Agustin Gurza
Credits: biography.com,Â nataliecole.com