LOS ANGELES — Natalie Cole, the Grammy-winning daughter of Nat “King” Cole” who carried on her late father’s musical legacy and, through technology, shared a duet with him on “Unforgettable,” has died. She was 65.
Cole died Thursday evening at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles due to compilations from ongoing health issues, her family said in a statement.
“Natalie fought a fierce, courageous battle, dying how she lived … with dignity, strength and honor. Our beloved Mother and sister will be greatly missed and remain UNFORGETTABLE in our hearts forever,” read the statement from her son Robert Yancy and sisters Timolin and Casey Cole.
Cole had battled drug problems and hepatitis that forced her to undergo a kidney transplant in May 2009. Cole’s older sister, Carol “Cookie” Cole, died the day she received the transplant. Their brother, Nat Kelly Cole, died in 1995.
Natalie Cole was inspired by her dad at an early age and auditioned to sing with him when she was just 11 years old. She was 15 when he died of lung cancer, in 1965.
She began as an R&B singer but later gravitated toward the smooth pop and jazz standards that her father loved.
Cole’s greatest success came with her 1991 album, “Unforgettable … With Love,” which paid tribute to her father with reworked versions of some of his best-known songs, including “That Sunday That Summer,” ”Too Young” and “Mona Lisa.”
Her voice was spliced with her dad’s in the title cut, offering a delicate duet a quarter-century after his death.
The album sold some 14 million copies and won six Grammys, including album of the year as well record and song of the year for the title track duet.
While making the album, Cole told The Associated Press in 1991, she had to “throw out every R&B lick that I had ever learned and every pop trick I had ever learned. With him, the music was in the background and the voice was in the front.”
“I didn’t shed really any real tears until the album was over,” Cole said. “Then I cried a whole lot. When we started the project it was a way of reconnecting with my dad. Then when we did the last song, I had to say goodbye again.”
She was also nominated for an Emmy award in 1992 for a televised performance of her father’s songs.
“That was really my thank you,” she told People magazine in 2006. “I owed that to him.”
Another father-daughter duet, “When I Fall in Love,” won a 1996 Grammy for best pop collaboration with vocals, and a follow-up album, “Still Unforgettable,” won for best traditional pop vocal album of 2008.
Cole made her recording debut in 1975 with “Inseparable.” The music industry welcomed her with two Grammy awards — one for best new artist and one for best female R&B vocal performance for her buoyant hit “This Will Be (An Everlasting Love).”
She also worked as an actress, with appearances on TV’s “Touched by an Angel” and “Grey’s Anatomy.”
But she was happiest touring and performing live.
“I still love recording and still love the stage,” she said on her website in 2008, “but like my dad, I have the most fun when I am in front of that glorious orchestra or that kick-butt big band.”
Cole was no stranger to Chicago audiences, having performed in the Windy City at numerous concert venues over the years, including a scheduled concert last February at North Central College in suburban Naperville, Ill.
In 2011, Cole headlined a free concert at Taste of Chicago, and 2013 she performed a double-bill with Ramsey Lewis at Ravinia.
“I was just thinking about her more than ever over the past year,” said Ravinia president and CEO Welz Kauffman. Cole performed at the Highland Park venue five times over the years, beginning in 1993. “When we presented Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga this past summer it was the closest thing I know to Natalie singing with her dad in those fantastic recordings. It was this ‘passing of the torch’ kind of experience [again]. Natalie was such a great pop star in her own right and gave such infectious performances on the stage. And much like Gaga, it’s something you have to be born with. … When she performed here with Ramsey Lewis, there was this sort of playful reverence she had for him on stage, reverence and respect for someone who had come before. … She was just simply marvelous.”
Cole’s first husband was Grammy-winning gospel artist/producer and Chicago minister Marvin Yancy, who headed the congregation at Fountain of Life Baptist Church on the city’s South Side from the late 1970s until his death in 1985. The couple were married in 1976 and had one son. They divorced in 1980.
At the time of her death, Cole had four concerts on the east coast already scheduled for 2016.
Singer Natalie Cole performs at “An Evening of SeriousFun Celebrating the Legacy of Paul Newman,” at Avery Fisher Hall, in New York, in March 2015. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)(Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)
Cole was born in 1950 to Nat “King” Cole and his wife, Maria Ellington Cole, a onetime vocalist with Duke Ellington who was no relation to the great bandleader.
Her father was already a recording star, and he rose to greater heights in the 1950s and early ’60s. He toured worldwide, and in 1956 he became the first black entertainer to host a national TV variety show, though poor ratings and lack of sponsors killed it off the following year. He also appeared in a few movies and spoke out in favor of civil rights.
Natalie Cole grew up in Los Angeles’ posh Hancock Park neighborhood, where her parents had settled in 1948 despite animosity from some white residents about having the black singer as a neighbor. When told by residents who said they didn’t want “undesirable people” in the area, the singer said, “Neither do I, and if I see (any), I’ll be the first to complain.”
The family eventually included five children.
Natalie Cole started singing seriously in college, performing in small clubs.
But in her 2000 autobiography, “Angel on My Shoulder,” Cole discussed how she had battled heroin, crack cocaine and alcohol addiction for many years. She spent six months in rehab in 1983.
When she announced in 2008 that she had been diagnosed with hepatitis C, a liver disease spread through contact with infected blood, she blamed her past intravenous drug use.
She criticized the Recording Academy for giving five Grammys to drug user Amy Winehouse in 2008.
“I’m an ex-drug addict and I don’t take that kind of stuff lightly,” Cole explained at the 2009 Grammy Awards. Hepatitis C “stayed in my body for 25 years and it could still happen to this young woman or other addicts who are fooling around with drugs, especially needles.”
Cole received chemotherapy to treat the hepatitis and “within four months, I had kidney failure,” she told CNN’s Larry King in 2009. She needed dialysis three times a week until she received a donor kidney on May 18, 2009. The organ procurement agency One Legacy facilitated the donation from a family that had requested that their donor’s organ go to Cole if it was a match.
Cole toured through much of her illness, often receiving dialysis at hospitals around the globe.
“I think that I am a walking testimony to you can have scars,” she told People magazine. “You can go through turbulent times and still have victory in your life.”
Associated Press; Contributing: Miriam Di Nunzio, Chicago Sun-Times