Natalie Cole did what so few children of famous entertainers are able to: She established her own career while also continuing the legacy of her legendary father, Nat King Cole.
Cole, who was born February 6, 1950, in Los Angeles, also inherited her great pipes from her mother, Maria Cole (born Marie Frances Hawkins), who sang with the great bands of her day, Benny Goodman, Fletcher Henderson, Count Basie and Duke Ellington.
As early as age 6, Cole was performing alongside her famous father and appeared with him on his self-titled television show at the age of 11. Her father passed away in 1965, just days after Cole’s 15th birthday.
Despite an extraordinary musical foundation, it was never Cole’s initial intent to pursue a music career.
Although she performed regularly during her college years, Cole had her eyes set on medical school. After college, however, she continued gigging and caught the attention of aspiring R&B producers Chuck Jackson (Jesse Jackson’s half-brother) and Marvin Yancy, who later became her husband and father of her only child, Robert Yancy.
Marvin spotted Cole while she was performing at the club Mr. Kelley’s in Chicago, where her father grew up.
Inseparable, her debut album, which drew comparisons to superstar Aretha Franklin and went gold, shot her to stardom in 1975, resulting in the No. 1 single “This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)” and two (Best New Artist and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance) of the nine Grammy awards she would win in her legendary career.
Her second album, Natalie, released in 1976, also went gold. Unpredictable, her third album released in 1977, which included her No. 1 R&B hit “I Got Love on My Mind,” became her first platinum album.
Thankful, her fourth album, also went platinum on the heels of another hit song “Our Love.”
Cole also found success with her own 1977 TV special and would make over 300 TV appearances during her career, including memorable dramatic roles on Law and Order and Grey’s Anatomy.
In 1979, she even received her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. But, as her career soared, Cole had fallen to drugs. For years, she battled a harrowing addiction, which included heroin, crack cocaine and alcohol, before emerging victorious from rehab in 1983.
By 1987, she got her career back on track with the album Everlasting, which produced three hit singles, including “I Live for Your Love.” But it was reaching back to the great legacy of her father that truly solidified her own.
Unforgettable . . . With Love, an album of her father’s many classics released in 1991, featured a smashing duet “Unforgettable,” where Cole and her late father took everyone’s breath away.
The track, produced by Cole’s second ex-husband, André Fischer, spent five weeks on top of the pop charts, selling more than 14 million copies globally and earning the singer six Grammy awards.
Through modern technology, she starred in an endearing video for “Unforgettable” where she and her father sang together once again like they had when she was a child.
“I felt my father everywhere,” she told Ebony Magazine in her October 1991 cover story. “Doing this project gave me an opportunity to create a dialogue between me and my dad,” she said.
It also created a dialogue between the old and the new, with Cole continuing to explore her jazz roots with the 1996 album of American standards, Stardust, which included another duet with her legendary father and also went platinum, scoring her another Grammy.
She won another Grammy for 2008’s Still Unforgettable, which also included Frank Sinatra songs as well as those of her father’s.
Cole, who became very vocal about her drug addiction and even later lambasted the Grammy Awards for rewarding notorious drug addict Amy Winehouse with several nominations, played herself in the 2001 TV movie, Livin’ for Love, based on her autobiography Angel on My Shoulder.
The film detailed her drug use and her comeback and earned her the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special.
She, however, did not escape her drug addiction unscathed.
In 2008, Cole, who had also married and divorced her third and final husband, Bishop Dupree, in 2001 and 2004 respectively, revealed that she had Hepatitis C as a result of her drug use back in the 1970s and 80s and also suffered from kidney failure.
Her intimate conversation with Larry King about her kidney failure, which required her to undergo dialysis three times a week, on his CNN Show Larry King Live in March 2009 resulted in an outpouring of support and fans offering to donate a kidney to her.
In dramatically tragic fashion, as she underwent a successful kidney transplant in May 2009, her beloved older sister Carole “Cookie” Cole, an adopted cousin biologically, lost her life to cancer.
Cole shared the devastation in her 2010 memoir Love Brought Me Back. Musically, she kept digging deep, releasing the acclaimed Natalie Cole En Español in 2013, which garnered three Latin Grammy nominations for Album of the Year, Record of the Year and Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album.
Other career milestones include singing the national anthem with the Atlanta University Center Chorus at Super Bowl XXVII. Cole, who made herself accessible to the younger generation, appeared in rapper Nas’s music video for “Can’t Forget About You,” which sampled her father’s “Unforgettable” and marked the debut of singer Chrisette Michele, and on American Idol and RuPaul’s Drag Race.
In the fall of 2015, she quietly battled additional health challenges, even canceling some of her performances.
Sadly, she lost that battle December 31, 2015, while at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles at age 65.