Born in Los Angeles, California (USA), Natalie Cole was the daughter of the great American singer Nat King Cole and former Duke Ellington Orchestra singer Maria Hawkins Ellington. At the age of 6, she sang on her father’s Christmas album and began performing at age 11. She rose to success in her own right during the 1970’s, singing at small clubs wit her band Black Magic. With the assistance of Chuck Jackson and Marvin Yancey, a songwriting and producing duo, she recorded some songs in a studio in Chicago that was owned by Curtis Mayfield. Her demo tapes lead to a contract with Capitol Records.
In 1975 she released her debut album ‘Inseparable’, which songs that reminded listeners of Aretha Franklin. The album became an instant success thanks to the single and top 10 hit ‘This Will Be’. Releasing a new album every year until 1981, she got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame already in 1979.
In 1981, Cole’s personal problems, including battles with drug addiction, began to attract public notice, and her career suffered as a result. In 1983, following the release of her album ‘I’m Ready’, released on Epic, Cole entered a rehab facility in Connecticut and stayed there for a period of six months. Following her release, she signed with the Atco imprint Modern Records and released ‘Dangerous’, which started a slow resurgence for Cole in terms of record sales and chart success.
In 1987, she changed to EMI-Manhattan Records and released the album ‘Everlasting’, which returned her to the top of the charts thanks to singles such as ‘Jump Start (My Heart)’, the top ten ballad, ‘I Live For Your Love’, and her dance-pop cover of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Pink Cadillac’. In 1989, she released ‘Good to Be Back’, which produced the number two hit ‘Miss You Like Crazy’; it also achieved international success, reaching the top ten in the United Kingdom.
Cole released her best-selling album with 1991’s ‘Unforgettable… with Love’ on Elektra Records, which saw Cole singing songs her famous father recorded, nearly 20 years after she initially had refused to cover her father’s songs during live concerts. Cole produced vocal arrangements for the songs, with piano accompaniment by her uncle Ike Cole. Cole’s label released an interactive duet between Cole and her father on the title song, ‘Unforgettable’. The song eventually reached number fourteen on the Billboard Hot 100 and number ten on the R&B chart, going gold. Unforgettable…with Love eventually sold more than 7 million copies in the U.S. alone and won several Grammys, including Album of the Year, Record of the Year and Best Traditional Pop Vocal Performance for the top song.
Cole followed that success with another album of jazz standards, titled ‘Take a Look’, in 1993, which included her recording of the title track in the same styling that her idol Aretha Franklin had recorded nearly 30 years earlier. The album eventually went gold while a holiday album, ‘Holly & Ivy’, also became gold. Another standards release, ‘Stardust’, went platinum and featured another duet with her father on a modern version of ‘When I Fall in Love’, which helped Cole earn another Grammy for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals.
In 1999, Cole returned to her 1980s-era urban contemporary recording style with the release of ‘Snowfall on the Sahara’ and second holiday album ‘The Magic of Christmas’, which was recorded with London Symphony Orchestra.
In 2000, Cole released an autobiography, ‘Angel on My Shoulder’, which described her battle with drugs during much of her life, including heroin and crack cocaine. At one stage as an addict, Cole worked as a prostitute’s tout in order to fund her drug habit. Cole said she began recreational drug use while attending the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She was arrested in Toronto, Canada, for possession of heroin in 1975. Cole spiraled out of control – in this phase of her life there was an incident in which she refused to leave a burning building, and another in which her young son Robert nearly drowned in the family swimming pool while she was on a drug binge. Her autobiography was released in conjunction with a made-for-TV movie, ‘Livin’ for Love: The Natalie Cole Story’ with Theresa Randle playing Natalie Cole.
She changed to Verve Records and released two albums. ‘Ask a Woman Who Knows’ (2002) continued her jazz aspirations, while ‘Leavin” (2006) was an album of pop, rock, and R&B songs. The album included a cover version of The Man With The Child In His Eyes, a song she’d already performed live on numerous occasions in the years before.
In 2008, seventeen years after ‘Unforgettable… with Love’, she released ‘Still Unforgettable’, which included songs made famous by her father and Frank Sinatra. Meanwhile she announced that she had been diagnosed with hepatitis C, which is a liver disease that is spread through contact with infected blood. Cole attributed having the disease to her past intravenous drug use. Four months after starting treatment for hepatitis C, Cole experienced kidney failure and required dialysis three times a week for nine months. Following her appeal for a kidney on the Larry King Show, she was contacted by the organ procurement agency One Legacy, in May 2009. The facilitated donation came from a family requesting that, if there were a match, their donor’s kidney be designated for Cole.
Cole canceled several events in December 2015 due to illness. It was reported on January 1, 2016, that she had died the day prior at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. According to Cole’s publicist, Maureen O’Connor, the singer’s death was the result of congestive heart failure. In official news on her cause of death, her family stated that Cole was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary arterial hypertension after her kidney transplant in 2009. Although Cole was clean and sober at the time of her death, her past intravenous drug use contributed to her demise. Her funeral was held on January 11, 2016, at the West Angeles Church of God in Christ in Los Angeles. David Foster, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Lionel Richie, Chaka Khan, Eddie Levert, Mary Wilson, Gladys Knight, Ledisi, Jesse Jackson, Angela Bassett, Denise Nicholas, Marla Gibbs, Jackée Harry and Freda Payne were among the mourners at the funeral. After the funeral, she was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.