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Natalie Cole

Natalie Cole
@ Pigeon Island, St. Lucia Jazz Festival
13 May 2007

Click an image to enlarge.

The beauty and charm of Pigeon Island during the day, or night, never fails to excite the senses. With the Atlantic Ocean on one side, the Caribbean Sea on the other, delicately lit palm trees gently kissing the sky, combined with the anticipation of a tremendous musical experience is surely enough to warm the coolest hearts.

While many mature patrons gazed at Miss Cole in awe of her youthful looks, younger patrons commented on her perfect choice of colourful full-length patchwork dress. A dress which definitely complimented her svelte figure…and who could miss the large glistening bling on her finger?

Cole waved and smiled warmly as she moved gracefully across the Pigeon island stage. She headed straight for the lone microphone that sat front stage, center. With few words spoken Cole signalled to her band with a glance before launching into old school favourites “I’ve Got Love On My Mind” and “Inseparable”.

Sexy, salsa set the scene for an upbeat “Tell Me All About It”, followed by “Mr Melody”, then the skin-tingling “Unforgettable”, performed with Mr Cole’s unforgettable voice soothing the audience to silence. Kirk Whalum also appeared on stage briefly to add his own style to this unforgettable canvas.

Natalie Cole’s self-penned “Annie Mae”, a real blast from the past, finished with Cole wiping her guitarist’s forehead and pleading for ‘more towels’ as the humidity and warm lights got to her. If She Could See Me Now” followed, accompanied by delicate acoustic guitar from Cole’s musical director, and precise vocal harmony from her backing singers.

Cole continued wooing her audience by digging deep into her gospel repertoire. Pigeon island patrons literally became Cole’s choir.

Cole wrapped up her polished performance with “This Will Be”, leaving patrons of all ages singing and dancing around a moonlit stage…Thankfully not a Pink Cadillac in sight!

A magnificent fireworks display signalled the end of another successful St Lucia Jazz Festival. Many patrons seemed reluctant to leave as they smooched and danced to sounds of soca and Marley blasting from stage speakers. Patrons, stagehands, journalists and local musicians shared stories and passions of festivals past. Thoughts of the 2008 festival and who would be performing was the question on everybody’s lips.

Review by Carole Clemesha & Robin Francis
© Michael Valentine Studio Ltd


Multiple Grammy-winning recording artist Natalie Cole was just 8 years old when her father, legendary crooner Nat King Cole, recorded his first album in Spanish, scoring an unexpected international smash in 1958. Her father’s foreign-language success was a culturally captivating experience for little Natalie, who got to travel outside the country for the first time with her famous father. She vividly recalls a trip to Mexico during which she saw her first piñata, posed for pictures “as a señorita” in folkloric dress, and most memorably, witnessed first-hand the adulation and esteem that Latin American fans showed for the King, a pioneering African-American superstar.
“They loved, loved, loved him,” she recalls. “And I loved what he loved. So I fell in love with the culture.”

55 years later, the accomplished R&B and jazz vocalist breaks new ground of her own with her first Spanish-language album, “Natalie Cole En Español,” on Verve/Universal. In this, her first new studio album in five years, Natalie revisits the rich repertoire of ageless Latin standards that once opened new vistas for her father. The 12 lushly orchestrated tracks, produced by Rudy Perez, Billboard’s Latin Music Producer Of The Decade, features Natalie’s distinctive take on some classics from her father’s catalogue, plus several other carefully chosen selections from the Latin American Songbook.

The road to making this record, however, was far from easy. Natalie, like her father, had many obstacles to overcome.

Nat King Cole was a trailblazer. He went from playing LA beer joints for $5 per night to scoring chart-topping hits (“Ramblin’ Rose,” “The Christmas Song,” “Mona Lisa”) that put him on a par with superstar peers such as Frank Sinatra. Starting as a jazz pianist in the 1940s, his King Cole Trio was the first African-American act to have a sponsored network radio show. And in 1956, he became the first African-American performer to have his own network television show, on NBC. He also appeared in films, including the comedy Western “Cat Ballou,” completed just before his death. In its obituary, The New York Times called him “one of the most durable figures in American popular music.” Yet, even as an established celebrity, Cole faced racism at home and abroad. He wasn’t allowed to perform in certain clubs, especially in the South, and in 1948, when he bought a new home in LA’s upscale Hancock Park neighborhood, racial epithets were left in his yard, his dog was poisoned and neighbours signed a petition against “undesirables.” (To which he famously responded that he’d be the first to report any undesirables if he found them.)

Despite all the adversity, Cole continued to build his remarkable career. His pioneering foray into Latin music set a bilingual trend that would be imitated by many of his fellow American singers. Nat King Cole made his first Spanish record, 1958’s “Cole Español,” at the urging of his Honduras-born manager, Carlos Gastel. Its success led to two well-received sequels, “A Mis Amigos” (1959) and “More Cole Español” (1962). The trio of hit albums on Capitol Records added “cultural ambassador” to his accomplishments. He was embraced by Latin American fans, despite his marked American accent in Spanish. They found his “gringo” lingo endearing, because it underscored his effort at cultural outreach. In short, remarks Perez, Latinos loved him for trying.

Cole did not survive to see his daughter follow in his footsteps with her own solo career. He died of cancer in 1965 at age 45. Ten years later, Natalie Cole won the first of her nine career Grammy Awards as Best New Artist of 1975, the year she debuted with the hit “This Will Be,” which also won for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female. In 1991, her tribute album, “Unforgettable… With Love,” won Album of the Year and marked a mid-career comeback.

In the wake of that album’s success, Cole kicked around ideas for a follow-up, along with her cousin, Carole, who was also her adoptive sister. They wondered: “What else can we do that dad did that was kind of interesting and different?” Their answer: an album of Latin standards.

But hardship, loss and tragedy would get in the way before their plans could be finally realised.

Four years ago, Natalie Cole was diagnosed with kidney failure and started getting dialysis treatments three times a week. Appearing on “Larry King Live,” she made an appeal for a kidney donor. Watching at home was a nurse named Esther who “serendipitously” had been on duty at the hospital one day when Cole was in for treatment. “Oh, I took care of that lady,” the nurse told her niece, Jessica, who was also watching. “She’s so nice, I wish I could help her find a kidney.” Less than two months later, Jessica, who was only 30 years old and eight months pregnant, died unexpectedly of a stroke. Her aunt came forward and offered the kidney, because her niece was an organ donor. She was a perfect match with Cole.

As fate would have it, the donor and her family were immigrants from El Salvador. The experience brought Cole even closer to the culture.

“I wouldn't put it past the possibility that there is a spirit of Latino inside of me, because of this family,” says Cole. “Ever since then, my passion for Spanish and everything Latin, all of a sudden became more intense. I couldn't even figure it out myself.”

There’s one final coincidence to add to the saga. When Cole got the news that a kidney was available, she was at bedside of her beloved sister, Carole, who was dying of cancer. Cole had to rush into surgery and wasn’t there when her sister passed away. The new album is also a tribute to her. “I know it's something that she would have loved as well,” says Cole. “She would be so proud.”

Yet another family hardship came last year. Cole lost her mother, Maria, who died of cancer at age 89. Under the stress of that difficult time, Cole lost her appetite and a lot of weight. But she bounced back, as she has from all the challenges in her life. “You know,” she says with a light laugh, “I may be down for a minute, but once I figure it out, I can’t stay there for too long.”

Perez, her Cuban-American producer, marvels at the energy and devotion Cole poured into the new project. At first, they hired a language coach who, coincidentally, is the daughter of the late Olga Guillot, a revered Cuban singer who had coached Nat Cole during his Havana sessions. But the language came so naturally to Natalie Cole, they decided formal coaching was superfluous.

“I found out she has an incredible ability to sing in Spanish phonetically, as you can hear on the album,” says Perez. “I couldn’t believe it, she was so good…She could roll her “r’s”, just unbelievable.”

Cole says her relationship with Perez was “simpático” from the start. She calls it “a perfect partnering.” Perez, president of the newly formed Latin Songwriters Hall of Fame, sent over 120 songs for Cole to consider. He gave her background on all the tunes and their composers, then later screened clips for her from classic black-and-white movies where some songs were featured.

Natalie Cole Career Highlights

Natalie Cole rocketed to stardom in 1975 with her debut album, Inseparable, earning her a #1 single, “This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)” and her first two Grammy® awards for Best New Artist and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance.

In 1977, Cole scored a No. 1 R&B hit with “I've Got Love on My Mind” from her third release, Unpredictable, which became her first platinum album. Cole continued her winning streak that same year with her fourth album, Thankful, which also went platinum and featured another signature hit, “Our Love.”

The singer expanded her success with her own TV special in 1977. It was the first of more than 300 major television appearances in her career, including dramatic roles on “Law and Order” and “Touched by an Angel” as well as guest spots on talk shows with Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres, and Larry King.

In 1979, Cole was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

After overcoming personal challenges, Cole returned in peak form with 1987’s Everlasting, an album which garnered three hit singles: “Jump Start (My Heart),” the Top 10 ballad “I Live For Your Love,” and her dance-pop cover of Bruce Springsteen's “Pink Cadillac.”

? Cole marked a career milestone in 1991 with the release of Unforgettable…With Love, featuring the celebrated duet with her late father, Nat King Cole. The album spent five weeks at No. 1 on the pop charts, earned six Grammy® awards, and sold more than 14 million copies worldwide.

? In 1996, Cole released a follow-up album of American standards, Stardust, which featured another duet with her father on “When I Fall in Love.” The album went platinum and won another Grammy for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals.

? Subsequent albums, Snowfall on the Sahara (1999) and Ask a Woman Who Knows (2002), both merited the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Jazz Artist

? Cole took home her ninth career GRAMMY® award for 2008’s Still Unforgettable, which won for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album. It also earned Natalie a NAACP Award for Best Jazz Artist.

? In 2001, she starred as herself in “Livin’ for Love: the Natalie Cole Story,”based on her autobiography, Angel on My Shoulder, which detailed her harrowing drive to overcome drug addiction. She received the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special. As an actress, Natalie starred in director Delbert Mann's “Lily in Winter” and co-starred with Laurence Fishburne and Cicely Tyson in Walter Mosley’s Always Outnumbered

? Cole released a second memoir in 2010 titled “Love Brought Me Back,” the heart-wrenching chronicle of her quest for a kidney transplant.

? Natalie Cole now serves as spokesperson for the University Kidney Research Organization, a nonprofit organisation supporting medical research related to the prevention, treatment, and eradication of all form of kidney disease.

Biography compiled by Agustin Gurza

Natalie Cole

Natalie Cole

Natalie Cole

Natalie Cole

Natalie Cole

Natalie Cole

Natalie Cole

Natalie Cole

Natalie Cole



Stardust Unforgettable The Collection Sophisticated Lady
Anthology Ask a Woman Dangerous take a look
I've Got Love On My Mind Snowfall On Sahara Natalie Cole with the London Symphony Orchestra - Magic Of Christmas Holly and Ivy
Everlasting Don't Look Back Love Songs Good To Be Back

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