It may sound unfair, but to get a real sense of the singing career of Natalie Cole, you have to discuss her father's singing career as well. There are far more parallels between their careers than, for example, between the careers of Frank and Nancy Sinatra, and exploring this link tells half of Natalie Cole's story.
Natalie Cole was born in 1950 in Los Angeles, when her father was at the midpoint of the second most successful singing career of the 20th century. Nat 'King' Cole had left a highly acclaimed career as a jazz pianist to concentrate on singing a wide variety of material, and by the time Natalie could sing, her father encouraged her talents. He wrote a part for her in his 1961 musical, I'm with You, and while the show did not sell as many tickets on its short tour as had been hoped, 11-year-old Natalie was now a professional singer.
Losing her father when he was just 47 was a blow to Natalie right after she reached age 15, and it was ten years before she connected with pop audiences. Like Nat before her, Natalie could walk the line with soulful material that African American audiences ate up and still develop a significant white audience. Her shows were well-integrated, a major step forward from the days when her father could perform for whites but not sleep in their hotels.
Natalie Cole's first pop hit was 1975's 'This Will Be,' a Top Ten smash that won her the first of eight Grammy Awards. Nat won just one, but the Grammys did not exist for most of his career. Also recognized as the 1975 Best New Artist of the Year, a third Grammy came to Natalie in 1976 for 'Sophisticated Lady (She's a Different Lady),' part of a string of #1 R&B hits from 1975 to 1978.
After a final hit in 1980 on Capitol Records, her father's label, Natalie fell on hard times in her career and her personal life. Whereas her father had suffered from an addiction to cigarettes, which killed him via lung cancer, Natalie became addicted to heroin and nearly died twice, once in a car crash and once from heroin itself. Fortunately, she was able to overcome the need for drugs, as well as the need to escape her life.
There was unfounded speculation that her early-1980s drug use was a way to combat the pressure of being Nat's daughter, but Natalie proved that theory wrong when she embraced her father's musical legacy in the late 1980s. Even though she was back on track, with two more Top Ten pop hits ('Pink Cadillac' in 1988 and 'Miss You Like Crazy' in 1989), Natalie decided it would be a superb tribute to Nat to use studio technology to perform a duet with him.
The result was 'Unforgettable,' Natalie's third gold record (and Nat's second), a three-Grammy winner, and a source of controversy for critics who thought she was using Nat as a ladder to success. Considering her recent hits, Natalie's career did not need a jump start, so such sour grapes did not affect her future work.
Now touring and selling tickets to a multitude of fans, Natalie has embraced her father's first love, jazz, and continued to honor his legacy. It is a privilege to have a ticket to a show by the torch-bearer for this superb musical family.
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