Natalie Cole

Natalie Cole Headshot

Singer • Songwriter • Actress

Birth Name: Natalie Maria Cole

Birth Date: February 6, 1950

Death Date: December 31, 2015

Birth Place: Los Angeles, California

Parents: Nat King Cole

The daughter of pop icon Nat "King" Cole, Natalie Cole enjoyed not one but two successful stages of her own career as a singer, first in the mid-1970s as a R&B performer, and later in the early 1990s as a pop-jazz vocalist in the style of her father. Cole began performing as a child on her father's records, but waited until her post-college years to try her hand at a solo career. The results were immediately successful, with her debut single "This Will Be" earning a Grammy award.

A string of hit records followed until her career was derailed in the early 1980s by a serious heroin and crack cocaine problem. She rebounded by the end of the decade before reaching the height of her popularity with Unforgettable With Love (1991), which famously featured an electronically constructed duet of the standard "Unforgettable" with her father. It swept the Grammys that year and re-minted Cole as a world-class pop interpreter.

She moved between jazz and standards and R&B material for the better part of the next decade, slowing only to contend with health problems incurred as a result of her past addictions. She emerged from these issues with renewed vigor, retaining her status as a living connection to her father's storied career while appearing in films and on television in dramatic roles that helped firmly establish Cole as a successful artist in her own right. Sadly, her health issues returned later, causing her death at the age of 65 due to complications from hepatitis C on December 31, 2015.

Born Natalie Maria Cole in Los Angeles, California on February 6, 1950, she was raised in a family of entertainers that included not only her father, but also mother Maria Hawkins Ellington - a former big band singer who was once married to Duke Ellington - and her uncle, jazz vocalist Freddy Cole. Raised with two adopted siblings and her two biological sisters in Los Angeles' affluent Hancock Park district, Cole began her singing career at the age of six, lending her vocals to a Christmas album recorded by her father, but focused largely on her education after her father's death from lung cancer in 1965. She was 15 years old, with the loss causing a considerable rift with her mother.

After graduating from the University of Massachusetts Amherst with a degree in child psychology in 1972, Cole reinvested in her singing career, performing at small Los Angeles clubs with her band, Black Magic. However, her choice of material - rock and R&B covers - disappointed listeners who had come to hear her perform pop standards in the vein of her father's material. In 1973, she teamed with producers Chuck Jackson and Marvin Yancy for a series of recordings they submitted to several record labels. All passed, save her father's former imprint, Capitol Records, which signed her to a contract. She also married Yancy in 1976, with whom she had a son, Robert, the following year.

Cole's debut album, Inseparable (1975), was a hit based on the strength of its lead single, "This Will Be," which broke into the Top 10 before netting her a Grammy for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, as well as another for Best New Artist. Seven consecutive albums quickly followed this initial success between 1976 and 1979, each reaching gold or platinum sales status, and generating such hits as the No. 1 R&B single "I've Got Love on My Mind" and the funky "Sophisticated Lady (She's a Different Lady)," which earned her a third Grammy in 1977. Her winning streak ended with her 1980 release, Don't Look Back, which adopted a more adult contemporary sound instead of her previous soul material. Meanwhile, Cole's health also took a downward turn due to a serious addiction to heroin and crack cocaine, which prompted a six-month stay at a Connecticut rehabilitation facility in 1983.

Following her recovery, she slowly began to rebuild her career, signing with Modern, an imprint of Atco Records, for 1985's Dangerous, which reached the lower end of the R&B albums chart.

But just two years later, Cole scored an impressive comeback with Everlasting (1987), which also marked her debut for the EMI-Manhattan label. A platinum-selling record thanks to such hit singles as her cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Pink Cadillac" and "(Jump Start) My Heart," it paved the way for even greater success with Good To Be Back (1989), which scored a Top 10 single with "Miss You Like Crazy." By this point, Cole was including several pop standards on each album, breaking her long-standing refusal to cover the sort of material that had made her father a star in the 1950s and 1960s. She fully embraced his lush, jazz-tinged sound on her next album, Unforgettable With Love (1991), which proved to be her biggest selling record to date. Key to the record's success was the single "Unforgettable," which mixed her rendition with her father's 1961 classic, thus allowing them to finally perform a duet together almost four decades after his death. The single took home Grammys for Song of the Year and Best Traditional Pop Vocal Performance in 1992, while the album itself won for Record of the Year. Its follow-up, Take a Look, followed in a similar sonic vein, which sent it to the top of the jazz charts while earning another Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Performance.

During this period, Cole began exploring acting opportunities, much as her father had done at the peak of his career. She chose her roles judiciously, starting small with guest turns on "I'll Fly Away" (NBC, 1991-93) before tackling her first starring role as the devoted nanny to a young white boy in the 1960s South in "Lily in Winter" (1994). Cole soon returned to guest appearances before making her debut as producer on the biopic "Livin' for Love: The Natalie Cole Story" (NBC, 2000), which was based on her autobiography, Angel on My Shoulder, released that same year. During this busy period, Cole continued to record and release new music, including the Christmas album, Holly & Ivy (1994), and Stardust (1996), which featured another duet with her father on "When I Fall In Love." The album captured two Grammy awards, including Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals and Best Instrumental Arrangement with Accompanying Vocals.

Three years later, Cole put her pop standard material on the backburner in favor of the urban contemporary sound of her 1970s recordings. However, Snowfall on the Sahara (1999) and a second Christmas album, The Magic of Christmas (1999), fared only moderately well, prompting Cole to return to pop-jazz via a new contract with the Verve label. Her debut there, Ask A Woman Who Knows (2002), reached the Top 40 on the Billboard 2000 and the top of the Jazz chart, but its follow-up, Leavin' (2006), was a lesser performer due to its collection of rock and R&B covers. In 2008, she moved to Rhino Records for Still Unforgettable, which featured a duet with her father on "Walkin' My Baby Back Home" that earned the record a Grammy for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album. But the success of the year was also tempered by news that she had been diagnosed with hepatitis C. The disease, which was likely due to her drug use, prompted treatment using anti-viral medication that while rendering her virus negative, left her suffering from fatigue and dehydration which required hospitalization in the fall of that year. The following year, it was revealed that Cole was also receiving dialysis treatment due to kidney disease. She eventually received a kidney transplant on the same day that her adopted sister, actress Carole Cole, who also served as CEO of her father's licensing catalog, had died of cancer. Natalie Cole returned to performing later that year with a triumphant performance at the Hollywood Bowl. In 2010, she performed with Andrea Bocelli in Los Angeles after collaborating with the Italian tenor on his compilation album, My Christmas (2009). Back on the screen, she had cameo appearances on the reality series "Real Housewives of Miami" (Bravo, 2011- )and "Real Housewives of New York City" (Bravo, 2008- ). However, increasing problems with her health forced Cole to pull back from her public appearances. Natalie Cole died on December 31, 2015, after suffering from both congestive heart failure and liver failure. She was 65 years old.

By Paul Gaita

Credits

Natalie Cole

Host
Show
2022

20 Years of Christmas With the Tabernacle Choir

Music Performer
Show
2021

Play Hits - Grammy Greatest Moments 1

Music Performer
Show
2017

Sinatra and FriendsStream

Actor
Special
2014

I studion: Tony Bennett

Music Performer
Show
2012

A Decade of Christmas

Music Performer
Show
2012

Tony Bennett - Duets II

Actor
Show
2012

National Memorial Day Concert (2012)

Music Performer
Show
2012

CBS This Morning

Guest
Show
2012

Carols Then and Now

Music Performer
Show
2011

Soul Train Christmas Star Fest

Host
Show
2010

Christmas With the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Featuring Natalie Cole and David McCullough

Music Performer
Show
2010

The TalkStream

Guest
Talk
2010

Access Hollywood Live

Guest
Show
2010

An Evening of Stars: Tribute to Lionel Richie

Music Performer
Show
2010

Spirit of Christmas

Music Performer
Show
2009

Holiday Belles

Music Performer
Show
2009

The Joy Behar Show

Guest
Show
2009

The Doctors

Guest
Talk
2008

The Wendy Williams Show

Guest
Talk
2008

The Wendy Williams Show

Music Performer
Talk
2008

My Generation

Guest
Show
2008

The Real Housewives of New York CityStream

Guest Star
Reality
2008

Oprah's Big Give

Guest Star
Show
2008

Natalie Cole Feat. Nat King Cole: Walkin' My Baby Back Home

Music Performer
Show
2008

Natalie Cole: Take A Look

Music Performer
Show
2008

Natalie Cole: The Very Thought Of You

Music Performer
Show
2008

Macy Gray Feat. Natalie Cole: Finally Made Me Happy

Music Performer
Show
2007

Grey's AnatomyStream

Guest Star
Series
2005
84%

American Latino TV

Music Performer
Show
2004

Tavis Smiley

Guest
Talk
2004

De-LovelyStream

Actor
Musical Performer - "Ev'ry Time You Say Goodbye"
Movie
2004
49%

The Easter Egg Escapade

Original Music
Movie
2004

Dr. PhilStream

Guest
Talk
2002

Dr. PhilStream

Music Performer
Talk
2002

Livin' for Love: The Natalie Cole Story

Executive Producer
Movie
2000

Livin' for Love: The Natalie Cole Story

Screenwriter
Movie
2000

Livin' for Love: The Natalie Cole Story

Self
Movie
2000

Natalie Cole

Actor
Movie
2000

L'Histoire de Natalie Cole

Actor
Movie
2000

Goodnight Moon & Other Sleepytime Tales

Voice
Show
1999

The Early Show

Music Performer
Show
1999

Law & Order: Special Victims UnitStream

Guest Star
Serena Waldren
Series
1999
78%

Freak City

Actor
Eleanor Sorrell
Movie
1999

Always Outnumbered

Actor
Iula Brown
Movie
1998

The ViewStream

Guest
Talk
1997

A Gala for the President at Ford's Theatre

Host
Show
1997

Cats Don't Dance

Voice
Movie
1997

Access Hollywood

Guest
News
1996

Fugitive From Justice: Underground Father

Actor
Latisha Corbett
Movie
1996

Abducted: A Father's Love

Actor
Latisha Corbett
Movie
1996

Touched by an AngelStream

Guest Star
Series
1994

Lily in Winter

Actor
Lily Covington
Movie
1994

The Tonight Show With Jay Leno

Music Performer
Talk
1992

Natalie Cole: Miss You Like Crazy

Music Performer
Show
1989

Uptown: A Tribute to the Apollo Theater

Host
Show
1980

Charlie's AngelsStream

Guest Star
Series
1976

Great PerformancesStream

Music Performer
Franchise
1972

The Carol Burnett ShowStream

Guest
Variety Show
1967

The Tonight Show Starring Johnny CarsonStream

Guest
Talk
1962

Today

Guest
News
1952