Gone But Not Forgotten: Natalie Cole
February 6, 1950 – December 31, 2015
Daughter of legendary musician Nat King Cole, Stephanie Natalie Maria Cole was one of the most recognizable voices of our time.
Born and raised in Hancock Park, Los Angeles, Natalie grew up surrounded by music. Her mother Maria Hawkins Ellington was an orchestra performer and background vocalist for Duke Ellington.
Natalie Cole was only six years old the first time she sang on her father's Christmas album, and eight years old when she went to Mexico on tour with her father. She was 11 when she began performing to the public. Nat King Cole died of cancer shortly after Natalie’s 15th birthday and the family relocated to Massachusetts. Natalie went to college at University of Massachussetts, majoring in child psychology. It was during this time in college that Natalie began a long struggle with drug abuse.
Unable to refrain from performing, Cole started performing with her band Black Magic at small clubs, and was eventually noticed by some Chicago-area producers. Capitol Records, her father's label, heard her recordings and agreed to sign her. Natalie returned to Southern California to pursue a career in the music industry.
Cole's rise to stardom came with the 1975 debut album Inseparable. The album’s hit single “This Will Be” climbed to #6 (#1?) on the pop charts and won the singer her first of nine Grammy Awards, for Best New Artist of 1975. She followed that up with #1 hit in 1977, "I've Got Love on My Mind" on her first platinum album, Unpredictable. Natalie Cole had her own TV special in 1977, which was the first in over 300 television appearances, including roles on "Law and Order" and "Touched By An Angel" as well as guest spots on talk shows with Oprah, Ellen, Larry King and more. In 1979, Cole was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Her association with producer Marvin Yancy led to marriage and the birth of their only child, Robert Adam Yancy. The pair divorced shortly after in 1980.
Over the next few decades, Natalie Cole would solidify her place in the music industry. Cole eventually recorded the hugely successful Unforgettable… with Love, which through technological advances paid homage to her late father. The album included rearranged recordings of her father’s famed music tracks and became one of the Natalie Cole’s biggest commercial achievements.
Cole would remarry twice before the turn of the century. First to Andre Fischer in 1989, though they divorced in 1995. Then to Bishop Kenneth Dupree in 2001 resulting in a brief union ending in 2005. In 2000 the “Our Love” singer released an autobiography Angel on My Shoulder, which aired in conjunction with her television movie Livin' for Love: The Natalie Cole Story in December 2000. The story recounted her drive to overcome drug addiction.
In 2002, Natalie Cole earned a NAACP Award for Best Jazz Artist for her 2008 album, Still Unforgettable.
Cole disclosed in 2008 that she been diagnosed with Hepatitis C as a result of intravenous drug abuse. An appearance on “Larry King Live” confirmed the singer was suffering from kidney failure and Cole pleaded for an organ donor. One of her fans stepped in and donated a kidney from her niece who unexpectedly died of a stroke at age 30. She released a second memoir, "Love Brought Me Back" which she recalled her quest for a kidney transplant. Before her death in 2016, Cole served as a spokesperson for the University Kidney Research Organization to help support research to prevent and treat kidney disease.
On December 31, 2015, after cancelling several scheduled appearances, the singer passed away. Cole’s successful R&B, blues, jazz, and pop projects were only the tip of her success. Before her passing, Cole released Natalie Cole en Español, influenced greatly by her iconic father.
Natalie Cole’s continued success, four decade long career, and ventures into several music genres make her a music legend.