Natalie Cole Dies at 65

Daughter of Nat “King” Cole won nine Grammys

Natalie Cole, Tri-C Jazz Fest, 2013
Natalie Cole, Tri-C Jazz Fest, 2013
Natalie Cole, Newport Jazz Festival 2013
Natalie Cole

Natalie Cole, the daughter of the legendary Nat “King” Cole and a successful vocalist in her own right, died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles on Thursday, Dec. 31. Cole, who was 65, had undergone a kidney transplant in 2009 and had experienced other health setbacks in recent years; she canceled a number of tour dates last month due to declining health. An official cause of death has not yet been cited.

Cole is best remembered for her 1991 hit “Unforgettable,” a duet with her late father created in the studio by overdubbing the vocal from Nat’s 1961 remake of the song (originally recorded by him in 1952) with Natalie’s. That recording reached number 14 on the Billboard singles chart, but five other singles by Cole charted higher: 1975’s “This Will Be,” 1977’s “I’ve Got Love on My Mind,” 1978’s “Our Love,” 1988’s “Pink Cadillac” (a Bruce Springsteen cover) and 1989’s “Miss You Like Crazy” all made the top 10. In addition, 21 of Cole’s albums made the Billboard albums chart, with 1991’s Unforgettable…With Love reaching number one.

Natalie Maria Cole was born Feb. 6, 1950, in Los Angeles. Her mother, Maria Hawkins Cole, had been a singer in the Duke Ellington and Count Basie orchestras. Natalie first recorded at age 6, on her father’s Christmas album, and began performing professionally at 11. (She is also the niece of singer and pianist Freddy Cole.) Natalie was 15 when Nat Cole died of lung cancer. She attended a prep school and two colleges before transferring to, and graduating from, the University of Massachusetts in 1972.

Like her father, Cole did not stick strictly to one genre of music, and most of her success came in the pop and R&B fields. Her earliest successes were for Capitol Records (her father’s label) and she later recorded for a series of labels including Manhattan, EMI and Elektra. Cole won nine Grammy awards in all, beginning with Best New Artist in 1976, and was nominated for a dozen others.

Although she initially stayed away from her father’s catalog deliberately, the aforementioned Unforgettable…With Love, on which she covered standards associated with Nat, became her most successful album, certified seven-times platinum by the RIAA. It won Cole the Album of the Year Grammy and the “Unforgettable” single took Record of the Year, both in 1992.

She later recorded a number of albums consisting of jazz standards, including 1993’s Take a Look and 2002’s Ask a Woman Who Knows.

Cole’s personal life often found her in the news, particularly for drug addiction, which she overcame during a six-month stay in a rehab center. She was married three times and had one son, Robert Yancy.

Cole published her autobiography, Angel on My Shoulder, in 2000, and was the subject that year of Livin’ for Love: The Natalie Cole Story, a made-for-TV movie.

Jeff Tamarkin

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Jeff Tamarkin is the former editor of Goldmine, CMJ, Relix, and Global Rhythm. As a writer he has contributed to the New York Daily News, JazzTimes, Boston Phoenix, Harp, Mojo, Newsday, Billboard, and many other publications. He is the author of the book Got a Revolution: The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane and has contributed to The Guinness Companion to Popular Music, All Music Guide, and several other encyclopedias. He has also served as a consultant to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, NARAS, National Geographic Online, and Music Club Records.