Natalie Cole was born with music in her blood.
Her father was the silky smooth singer, television pioneer and celebrated bop pianist Nat “King” Cole and she was the apple of his eye.
A celebrated singer in her own right, she will wrap up the Tri-C JazzFest festival with a performance on Saturday night with the Clayton-Hamilton Orchestra. She began her singing career at the tender age of 6, singing with her father on his Christmas album and turning pro at the age of 11. Cole, 63, has had a stellar career as an R&B and pop star and a jazz chanteuse garnering nine Grammys.
She first stepped out of her father’s enormous shadow after graduating college in the early 1970s while playing in clubs. Worried about being perceived as riding her father’s coattails, Cole surprised many by eschewing jazz and fronting bands playing soul, rock and R&B.
Cole then hooked up with the production team of Chuck Jackson and Marvin Yancey and after recording some demos and shopping them around she was signed by Capitol Records, her father’s label.
Right out of the gate Cole was successful with her debut album, Inseparable, which contained the hit dance song This Will Be (An Everlasting Love) (heard recently in eHarmony commercials) and the title ballad Inseparable. Both songs topped the R&B charts as did the album. This Will Be, written in the soul/gospel style of (and reportedly originally offered to) Aretha Franklin also garnered Cole her first and second Grammy in 1975 for best female R&B performance, breaking her idol Franklin’s eight-year winning streak in the category. Cole was also named best new artist.
The Cole-Jackson-Yancey triad would go on to write and record four more R&B albums with hits such as the taut, Grammy-winning funk track Sophisticated Lady (She's a Different Lady), the breezy Mr. Melody and bouncy disco tune Party Lights and I've Got Love on My Mind, from her platinum-selling third album Unpredictable from 1977.
Cole was riding high with gold and platinum albums, hit singles and a television special, but by the early ’80s she was addicted to heroin and crack cocaine and that spilled over into her work and began hurting her career. Cole went to rehab and returned healthier and happy and was rewarded when her 1987 album, Everlasting, returned her to the charts with her Top 10 dance-pop take on Bruce Springsteen's Pink Cadillac and the single Jump Start.
Then in 1991, Cole finally fully embraced her lineage and recorded the straight-ahead jazz album Unforgettable … With Love, which featured the ghostly hit duet with her father, Unforgettable.
The album was wildly successful selling seven million copies and brought more Grammys for Cole, including album of the year, record of the year and best pop vocal performance for the title track. The album also spawned an Emmy-nominated PBS special, Unforgettable, With Love: Natalie Cole Sings the Songs of Nat “King” Cole in 1992.
Since then, Cole has mostly stuck with jazz picking up more Grammys with musical detours into contemporary R&B including a 2009 cover of Franklin’s Daydreaming that hit the hot adult contemporary Top 30.
Cole’s most recent album, Still Unforgettable, is another collection of standards and Great American Songbook entries featuring another duet with her dad on Walkin’ My Baby Back Home.
She has also been seen as an actress on various television series including Touched By an Angel and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. She starred as herself in a 2001 biopic Livin’ for Love: The Natalie Cole Story which earned her yet another award, an NAACP Image Award for best actress in a TV miniseries.
At the turn of the century, Cole became an author releasing her book Angel on My Shoulder in 2000.
Currently, Cole is touting her upcoming release, a collection of Latin jazz songs with her singing in Spanish that is due later this spring.
Cole is a survivor. In addition to her struggles with drugs, she has weathered several health issues including contracting hepatitis C — likely from her drug abuse. Now she is an outspoken advocate for hepatitis C awareness. Cole will perform with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, a collection of Los Angeles-based musicians led by bassist conductor John Clayton, saxophonist Jeff Clayton and drummer Jeff Hamilton.
The band is highly regarded and its debut release 1990’s Groove Shop earned it a Grammy nomination. The group should be familiar with the standards Cole will perform and several of the members played on Still Unforgettable.