Sat | Aug 24, 2019

The Music Diaries | Natalie Cole followed closely in dad's musical steps

Published:Sunday | March 25, 2018 | 12:00 AMRoy Black
Singer Natalie Cole

'Technological wizardry' was how one critic described the 1991 recording Unforgettable, sung by Natalie Cole and her dad, Nat King Cole. It took some amount of convincing to let some persons accept the fact that the younger Cole's voice was superimposed on the original recording and that they were not in the studio together. As it turned out, the recording and the album from which it was taken became a masterpiece, copping multiple Grammys, including Album of the Year. Also included in the double album were 23 of Nat Cole's memorable pieces, excellently sung by Natalie as a tribute to her dad.

But there need not be any wonder or surprise about the success of that project when one considers the close relationship that existed between father and daughter from the very day that Natalie was born on February 6, 1950, a birth date she shares with reggae superstar Bob Marley.

Exhibiting a natural penchant for music from as early as age six, Natalie accompanied her father to several of his performances and recording sessions and got the opportunity at that age to record at the larger-than-life Capitol Recording Company a little Christmas ditty titled I'm Goodwill, your Christmas Spirit.

"I was six years old, and dad coached me on my first record, lisp and all," she quipped in her autobiography, with an accompanying photograph showing her cuddled in her father's lap. It was a move that drew her ever closer to him and reinforced the popular idiom 'the chip never falls too far from the block'.

The relevance of this retrospective is particularly timely since Nat King Cole would have celebrated his 99th birthday last week Saturday if he were alive. Also, the commonality of the number 65 to both performers is particularly significant as the younger Cole died at that age, while Nat died in 1965. He was 45 years old.

Nat King Cole was, perhaps, a happy man when the news reached him in mid-1949 that his first child, who turned out to be Natalie, was on the way as he was now approaching his 31st birthday. 'Breaking his ducks' at such a late stage may have inspired this deep love and dedication that Nat showed for his daughter and triggered her reciprocating behaviour.

Surely, there has never been a closer father-daughter relationship in the entertainment business that has reaped greater success for both entertainers. Nat King Cole was the undisputed champion of romantic ballads, and was rated by many as the best voice of all times, while Natalie blessed with the voice of an angel, created music and Grammy history by copping an unprecedented nine Grammys - three of which were for her smash comeback album Unforgettable With Love - in 1992.


Roller-coaster ride


Yet, amid her good fortune, life, overall, was more like a roller-coaster ride that handed Natalie several overwhelming challenges: two broken marriages, the loss of her best friend (her father) when she was only 15 years old, family tragedies, a public dispute with her mother over her father's estate, drug abuse, and a close shave with death after a fire engulfed her Vegas Hilton Hotel room in Las Vegas in 1981.

By the middle of 1961, both entertainers were experiencing dramatic turning points in their lives. The 11-year-old got her first exposure to a public audience when she was included in a Broadway musical alongside her dad. The act received rave reviews in Down Beat Magazine, which described their performance as The most appealing bit in the first half, which Papa Cole shares with his daughter.'

Meanwhile, Nat received the shocking news that his wife, Maria, now 38 years old, was pregnant - this time with twins. The news took irony to another level when we recall that at one point, Nat thought that he would never have a child. Financially, though, he was at the brightest period of his existence, and his popularity soared to unprecedented levels.

For Natalie, these credentials were beginning to have an agonising effect on her as she entered high school. Being constantly referred to as 'the daughter of' by her peers wasn't going down too well with her.

"I felt as though I didn't have an identity of my own and wasn't sure whether people liked me for me or because of who my dad was," she said in her autobiography. Yet when Natalie received the worst news of her life on February 15, 1965, that her father, died after a relatively short battle with lung cancer, she, perhaps, might have relished the thought of being referred to as 'the daughter of'.

With encouragement from friends, she managed to gradually turn her life around. The most important turning point was the acquisition of the services of the songwriting and production team of Chuck Jackson and Marvin Yancy, who she later married.

They secured for her a recording contract with the well-established Capitol Records, which released her debut album, Inseparable, in 1975. It won for her two Grammys for Best R&B Female Vocal Performance and Best New Artiste. She won her third Grammy for the single Sophisticated Lady, while the monumental hit I've Got Love on My Mind became her fourth number-one single.

Natalie also copped Grammys in 1994 for Best Jazz Vocal Album; in 1997 for Best Pop Collaboration; and in 2009 for Best Traditional Pop Vocal. Her crowning achievement came with the release of the 1991 electronically-recorded album, Unforgettable ... With Love. It swept the 1992 Grammys, winning three awards - Album of the Year, Record of the Year, and Best Traditional Pop Performance.