Obituary: Natalie Cole
Singer and daughter of Nat King Cole, whose talent was overshadowed by a troubled personal life
Published 10/01/2016 | 02:30
Natalie Cole, who has died aged 65, was the daughter of Nat 'King' Cole. She found success both as the keeper of her father's flame and as a true diva of modern soul music, but achieved notoriety for a life strewn with drug addiction and reckless behaviour.
Her most memorable hit was Unforgettable... With Love (1991), on which, thanks to modern technology, she sang the title track as a duet spliced with her father's original recording from 1952.
Her other popular albums included Inseparable (1975), with its single This Will Be (An Everlasting Love) that reached No 1 in the R&B charts.
By the time of Unpredictable (1977), which included the No 1 hit I've Got Love on my Mind, she was competing with Aretha Franklin as the new queen of soul, albeit briefly.
Her music went beyond the crooning numbers of her father's hits to include jazz and rock songs, all delivered with a deep and searing conviction, although she shared his passion for performing for a live audience.
"Like my dad, I have the most fun when I am in front of that glorious orchestra or that kick-butt big band," she once said.
However, despite the fact that she had been born into R&B royalty ("We were the black Kennedys"), Natalie Cole had a troubled life.
At one stage, she worked as a prostitute's tout to feed her drug habit, walking the streets of Harlem to draw in potential clients. On another occasion, trapped inside a burning hotel in Las Vegas with her bodyguard, she opted to take cocaine rather than accept his offer to make love as they waited to die.
"I was young, very successful and very stupid and naive," she later said. "That's a deadly combination."
Natalie Maria Cole was born on February 6, 1950, the daughter of Nat King Cole, whom she adored, and his second wife, Maria Hawkins, a singer with the Duke Ellington Orchestra. They were the first black family to live in the exclusive Hancock Park neighbourhood of Los Angeles and for many years Natalie's only experience of black culture was the regular trip across the city to have her hair done.
At the age of six, she was heard on her father's holiday collection The Magic of Christmas, and by the time she was 11 she was confidently appearing on stage alone.
But when Nat King Cole died in 1965 at the age of 45, she was a vulnerable 15-year-old, and a week after his funeral she was caught shoplifting.
She suffered sexual abuse from an unnamed member of her family and by the time she was studying child psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, she was taking LSD and heroin.
"There were moments of sobriety," she protested, although on one occasion she did have to be pulled back from jumping from a 20th-floor window while believing she would float to earth.
The first of her nine Grammy Awards came in 1975 for Inseparable and in 1979 she was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. But the hard living was beginning to take its toll. She emerged from several years of rehab in 1987 with the successful album Everlasting, which included her disco-style cover of Bruce Springsteen's Pink Cadillac.
The Unforgettable duet brought Natalie Cole the greatest fame of her career, with the album selling more than 14 million copies, spending several weeks at No 1 and leading to a new sense of conviction about her music and her direction in life.
In 2001, her autobiography, Angel on My Shoulder, gained widespread attention for its painful honesty as it laid bare her difficult relationship with her mother and the pressures of following in the footsteps of one of the most enduring and unimpeachable entertainers of the 20th century.
Latterly, Natalie Cole turned her attention to the Spanish-speaking market with a stylish Latin album entitled Natalie Cole en Espanol. She also appeared in some minor television roles, including The Real Housewives of New York City. By now she was suffering from hepatitis C and in 2009, after successfully appealing for a donor on The Larry King Show, she underwent a kidney transplant.
Natalie Cole made probably the most unusual appearance of her career in 2010, when she arrived at the Ariana Cinema in downtown Kabul to introduce Black Tulip, an Afghan film for whose soundtrack she had recorded two songs.
Natalie Cole was wed three times. Her first husband was Marvin Yancy, whom she married in 1976. The marriage was dissolved in 1980 and in 1989 she married Andre Fischer.
That marriage was dissolved in 1995 and from 2001 to 2004 she was married to Kenneth Dupree. Natalie Cole, who died on December 31, is survived by a son, Robbie, from her first marriage.