She mirrored her father’s love of Latin culture by not only debuting a Spanish-English album, “Natalie Cole En Espanol” in June 25, 2013, through Verve Records under the Universal Music LLC label but won an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding World Music Album. Produced by legendary Cuban-American composer Rudy Perez, a Billboard’s Latin Music Producer Of The Decade is now a bittersweet remembrance as this would turn out to be Ms. Cole’s final studio album.
One of my favorite selections in which she accompanies, through 21st century technology, a song her father had on his own album 55 years previous,” ACÉRCATE ḾAS”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d4ZaqKVmDAA. A close second in my book, “Voy A Apagar La Luz”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7zd6JFuIwnA. Some great, great music allowing her talent to shine even brighter and extending her reach to the world of music lovers anticipating some of the best she had to offer. You knew from the first note Natalie’s heart was in it, much to the emotional enthusiasm of the Latin community and the rest of us who adore the sights, sounds and flavors of such a rich culture.
Alongside her father for seventeen years of marriage before his own death in 1965 was Ms. Cole's mother Maria Cole, born Marie Francis Hawkins in Boston Massachusetts. From humble beginnings Maria's father, Mingo Hawkins a postal worker and mother, Caro Saunders embarked on parenthood but was short-lived when she died in childbirth causing both Maria, age 2 at the time and her sister Charlotte to be sent to live with their aunt and Charlotte’s namesake, Dr. Charlotte Hawkins Brown.
Brown, who founded a highly decorated black preparatory school, Palmer Memorial Institute, located in Sedalia, N.C. back in 1902. Many may know this prestigious school by its current name the Alice Freeman Palmer Memorial Institute, Alice Freeman, a benefactor of Dr. Brown’s.
Natalie’s mother Maria was driven as second wife to Nat King Cole and wanted to see him achieve his dreams and some of her own as she had become an accomplished jazz singer performing with both Duke Ellington and Count Basie before even meeting the famous Mr. Cole. Hers was not a glamorous start as he had previously been married and gave special attention to, became decidedly smitten, and divorced his first wife to marry Maria. However, over the span of their marriage redemption came as they seemed to have formed an unbreakable bond and raised children who would continue adding sparkle to the family moniker.
Natalie by some estimates may have seemed to live a charmed life, yet tragedy and heartbreak she could not escape. Some came from highs and lows in her career when she thought she had a shot at stardom. For those who remember her very early run with her band Black Magic. Night clubs initially excited at the prospects of having "Nat King Cole’s daughter" come through quickly changed to a few acid-laced reviews as the expectation was cool stylings not rock and R&B.
Marvin Yancy, who Natalie later married, and Chuck Jackson saw her at a Chicago hot spot and knew they had a winner on their hands. Yet, after working with her on several records shopped the recording around to mostly closed doors accept Capitol Records which happened to be her father’s label. Yancy would die of a heart attack in 1985 at age 34.
After some rigorous adjustments the album was ready and the release of Inseperable, released May 11, 1975 brought on more than a few cheers, ovations and sighs of relief. Garnishing top spots on Billboard charts, the celebrated album went gold selling over a million copies and delivering two Grammys for Best New Artist and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. With all of the media hype and marketing to catapult her career, her idol Aretha Franklin who had reportedly turned down some of the same songs recorded and hitting stellar high notes by Cole seemingly became rumored contention between the icons.
For eight years straight before Natalie Cole’s success, Ms. Franklin had been the front runner and winner for her 1968 hit “Respect” and continued her reign until Ms. Cole’s winning of the coveted award of Best Female R&B Vocal Performance in 1976 for her song “This Will Be”. Overall Ms. Franklin had 11 wins. If Ms. Cole’s success ignited any type of real riff between these two superb artists may death be the end of it.
Ms. Cole also battled kidney disease and went public on Larry King Live searching for a donor. She found one in an overwhelmingly loving gesture by a nurse named Esther who had been on duty and cared for Ms. Cole at some point during her illness. She had discussed with her niece how she wished she could help and what unfolded is nothing short of true giving from the human spirit. Esther had wanted to help with a kidney but was unable to. Her niece who had been eight months pregnant suddenly died of a stroke, making the life-extending offer of a kidney an available match and opportunity for life. Ms. Cole had also battled drug addiction and overcame it and two more marriages, the last ending in divorce.
No matter what life threw her way she braved it out not with bravado but a sense of reassurance even in dark times. She nailed this thing called life. She did it.
On February 6, 1950, Natalie Maria Cole was born at Cedars Of Lebanon Hospital in Los Angeles and the woman we knew as a beloved artist and dynamic force lost her battle on December 31st at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
She is survived by a son, Robert Adam “Robbie Yancy, a musician himself, and is also predeceased by two adopted siblings Nat Kelly Cole who passed away in 1995 and Carole Cole who was an American Actress and music producer and CEO of King Cole Productions, who passed away in 2009 and was the natural daughter of Mr. Cole’s wife, Carol Hawkins. Her remaining siblings, twins, Timolin and Casey Cole along with Ms. Cole's son Robbie and a host of family and friends are for now left with a deep void and deeper sense of responsibility in keeping the music legacy alive in whatever way they can. Not because we say so but because its in the blood.
Ms. Cole’s twin sisters in a statement released to PalmBeachPost.com:
“We are devastated by the loss of our beloved sister,” they wrote. “Her talent, elegance and commitment to music put her in a class by herself. Our hearts go out to her son, Robbie, and her many friends. We spent this past Christmas with Natalie, and she expressed her gratitude for her rewarding life and family, friends and fans as she bravely faced her declining health. She spent her last days surrounded by those who she loved. We are committed to carrying on our family’s commitment to music education.”
The posting goes on to say: A private service will be held at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale CA. The family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to:
Nat King Cole Generation Hope, Inc.
555 South Federal Highway, Suite 430
Boca Raton, Florida 33432
One final note. One of my favorite songs was This Will Be. I know where I was when I first heard it and I am going to dance to this song the same way - stomping my feet, hands in the air, snapping my fingers with an enhanced knowledge of what the words mean as a grown adult.
Dance like you mean it!
Until next time~