Natalie Cole, iconic pop-soul singing star and heir to the musical legacy of premier jazz pianist and vocalist Nat “King” Cole, passed on New Year’s Eve of congestive heart failure at age 65. She came back from kidney failure in 2008 after being diagnosed with the liver disease Hepatitis C. Her family stated that at the time of her death, Cole had “ongoing health issues.”
While she attributed her having contracted Hepatitis C to intravenous drug use, she’d reportedly been in recovery from chemical dependency since 1983 and is quoted as saying the liver disease “stayed in my body for 25 years.” She canceled several events in December 2015 due to illness before succumbing at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
The nine-time Grammy Award winner rose to international success in the mid-1970s with a vocal style highly reminiscent of Aretha Franklin. She quickly established her own niche as the distinctly identifiable originator of hit recordings like “Sophisticated Lady,” “I’ve Got Love on My Mind” and “Our Love.”
After a period of failing sales and performances, during which she battled addiction, Natalie Cole made a much-welcomed comeback with the chart-toppers “Jump Start My Heart” and “This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)” as well as album tracks like “Urge to Merge” and her cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Pink Cadillac.”
Her greatest success in reaching the mainstream was with the 1991 release Unforgettable … With Love, a tribute to her father’s music that included the vastly popular single “Unforgettable,” for which she overdubbed an accompanying vocal on the master tape to simulate a touching duet with him. The album sold more than seven million copies and won numerous Grammy Awards.
Recording until 2013, with a discography of more than 20 albums all told, she sold over 30 million records worldwide. She was the first female artist to have two platinum albums in one year, 1977’s Thankful and Unpredictable.
Crossing over to television, she starred in a 1978 hour-long special on CBS TV, The Natalie Cole Special, with special guests Earth, Wind & Fire, and she appeared on the special Sinatra and Friends. Other televised performances included the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute, Midnight Special and A Tribute to Nat Cole for BBC with Johnny Mathis. Dabbling in acting, she made several dramatic guest appearances on, among other programs, I’ll Fly Away, Touched by an Angel, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Grey’s Anatomy.
A partial listing of her awards includes NAACP Image Awards for Livin for Love: The Natalie Cole Story, the George and Ira Gershwin Award for Lifetime Musical Achievement, and the Hitmaker Award from the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
By Dwight Hobbes, who welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.