Sun | Aug 20, 2017

I have led a life of extremes, said Natalie Cole in autobiography

Published:Sunday | January 10, 2016 | 1:00 AM
In a Sunday, July 6, 2003, file photo, singer Natalie Cole performs on Stravinsky stage during the 37th Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland.

The passing of singing sensation Natalie Cole on New Year's Eve 2015 has left an irreplaceable void in the entertainment business. She was only 65 years old and had much more left in her to give to the world of entertainment. Sharing a birthday with legendary reggae king Bob Marley, Cole was born in 1950 into a well-to-do family structure in the rich, white neighbourhood of Hancock Park, Los Angeles, California.

Often, her mom and dad - the legendary king of romantic ballads Nat King Cole - were away on overseas tours and their role as parents was performed by nannies and maids in a California household that was blessed with a rich lifestyle, supported by her dad's enormous wealth. In her autobiography, she stated: "I was born into a life of extremes and I have led a life of extremes. I was born with both the blessing and the burden of my family legacy, which have given me both some of the greatest advantages and some of the greatest disadvantages a person might hope for."

The advantages were obvious. The disadvantages were grave and included being away from her parents for long periods when they were away; the dislike that her mother's family, who were of a lighter complexion, had for her father; and the concealing of the contents of a will that her father left. Nat Cole's widow, Maria Cole, the children's mother, although admitting that Nat had left a will, denied that anything had been directly left for his children. In her autobiography, Natalie wrote: "It took nearly a decade before we found out exactly what was happening. We were all over 21, and mother was still rationing out a few thousand dollars here and there to Timolin and Casey." (Timolin and Casey were Natalie's two younger sisters.)

 

DARK DAYS

 

It wasn't until June 1990, when the siblings were called to a meeting at a law office in Century City to sign off on papers to authorise tax payments for a trust fund, that Natalie was allowed to see her father's last will and testament for the first time. It revealed that provisions had been made for two trusts since 1960: one for Maria and the other for his children.

Those were dark days in Natalie's life, and there were many others. The brighter days were the early ones and the years of the Grammies and the number-one hits.

Natalie's earliest influence in music was her father, who "taught us gibberish songs that gave us kids a bad case of giggles and crazy rhyme-and-sound songs", she said. As a four-year old, Natalie would try to capture every note of the records her father brought home on a recorder he had bought for her.

"I'd read the Childcraft poems or my own poetry into the recorder and put music to the words and then make up little melodies to go along with them," Natalie recalled.

Taking Natalie along with him to many of his studio sessions and concerts before she was even six years old also did wonders to help to mould her into a great artiste. It was at that age that Natalie did her first recording at Capitol Records titled I'm Goodwill, Your Christmas Spirit, a Christmas story and song that a fan wrote for Natalie to sing.

Her next major move was an appearance as an 11 year-old in 1961 with her dad - in a Broadway musical. She received rave reviews for her performance.

The years between 1961 and 1965 were bumpy ones for Natalie. She was unhappily enrolled at a predominantly all-white girls school with all-white teachers in 1964, and to compound the ghastly situation for her, she would be away from home for months at a time, all courtesy of her mother who wanted her to be among a certain 'well-bred' class of people. No doubt the loneliness and frustration she was experiencing led her to the use of drugs. To make matters worse, she lost the person who meant the most to her in life - her dad in February 1965, nine days after her 15th birthday.

 

CROWNING ACHIEVEMENT

 

It dealt a devastating blow to her from which she barely recovered. Luckily, she found some good friends, got into black consciousness, and gradually began to turn her life around.

The real turning point in Natalie's life came with the acquisition of the services of the songwriting-production team of Chuck Jackson and Marvin Yancy - who she later married. They acquired for her a recording contract with the well-established Capital Records. Her debut album in 1975 titled Inseparable had two number-one hits: This will be an everlasting Love and the title track. It won for her two Grammy awards - Best R&B Female Performance and Best New Artiste - the first African American to be so honoured.

The single, Sophisticated Lady, taken from her second album, Natalie, won for her the third Grammy and her third number-one hit. The monumental hit I've got love on my Mind, taken from her third album, the million-selling Unpredictable, in 1977, became her fourth number-one single. The cuts contained therein tell the tale of a woman deeply in love. The result was the birth of her son, Robert Yancy, in October 1977.

Her next album, Thankful, went platinum and showered on her the distinction of being the first female artiste to have two platinum releases in the same year. The recording, Our Love, taken from the album, became her fifth number-one single.

Between 1978 and 1989, Natalie released the albums Natalie Live, I Love You So, Don't Look Back, Happy Love, I'm Ready, Dangerous, and Good to be Back.

Her crowning achievement, however, was the 1991 electronically recorded album Unforgettable ... With Love in duet with her dad. It swept the 1992 Grammys, gaining three awards - Album of the Year, Record of the Year, and Best Traditional Pop Performance.

With over eight Grammy Awards from 21 nominations, several number-one hits and numerous other awards, Cole surely ranks among the top female artistes of all time.

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