R&B singer Natalie Cole, whose hits included “This Will Be,” “I Live For Your Love” and “Unforgettable,” a virtual duet that she sang with her late father Nat “King” Cole, has died. The Associated Press reported she died Thursday night at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
Cole died of congestive heart failure, and reportedly had experienced complications from a kidney transplant and hepatitis C. She had recently cancelled several concerts and suffered from liver disease.
“Natalie fought a fierce, courageous battle, dying how she lived … with dignity, strength and honor,” Cole’s son and two sisters said in a statement. Recording Academy president Neil Portnow called her “one of music’s most celebrated and iconic women” and a “highly cherished artist.”
Cole won a Grammy for best female R&B performances as well as best new artist for the 1975 “This Will Be” from the “You” album. She again won the R&B Grammy the next year for “Sophisticated Lady.” Her third album “Unpredictable” went platinum with the hit “I’ve Got Love on My Mind” and her fourth album, “Thankful,” contained the hit “Our Love.”
Cole also worked as an actress later in her career, logging guest shots on such TV series as “Touched By an Angel,” “I’ll Fly Away,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Law & Order: SVU.” She appeared in the 1990s TV movies “Lily in Winter,” “Abducted: A Father’s Love,” “Always Outnumbered” and “Freak City.”
After a long dry spell in music, Cole staged a comeback with the 1991 album “Unforgettable…With Love,” which included the duet on the ballad “Unforgettable” with her father, a jazz legend turned pioneering African-American pop hit maker who died of lung cancer in 1965. The album featured Cole’s renditions of other Nat “King” Cole favorites, among them “Mona Lisa,” “Route 66,” “Smile” and “The Very Thought of You.”
Natalie Cole’s voice was blended with her father’s classic 1950s rendition of “Unforgettable” for a hit that spent 17 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The two also appeared together in a video assembled from old footage of Nat “King” Cole for the song that was widely seen that year.
“Unforgettable … With Love” took home six Grammys in 1992, including the nods for album of the year for Cole and producer David Foster while the song “Unforgettable” won for record of the year, song of the year and traditional pop vocal. The album wound up selling 14 million copies and went to No. 1 on Billboard’s album chart.
Cole collected a total of nine Grammys during her career, the last coming for traditional pop vocal album for her 2008 standards collection “Still Unforgettable.”
Cole’s entry into the family business of music came at age 6 on her father’s holiday collection “The Christmas Album,” which featured his enduring rendition of “The Christmas Song.” Natalie and other siblings made appearances on her father’s NBC variety series “The Nat King Cole Show,” which aired in 1956 and 1957. Her father became the first African-American to topline a primetime network TV variety series, although the show faced challenges in attracting advertisers despite Cole’s popularity as a singer.
Natalie Cole grew up with four siblings in Los Angeles’ Hancock Park area, where some residents were opposed to the idea of having African-American neighbors. Her mother was jazz vocalist Maria Ellington, who sang for a time with Duke Ellington but was no relation to the bandleader.
Natalie Cole battled substance abuse for many years when she was younger, as detailed in her 2000 memoir “Angel on My Shoulder.” She served a stint in rehab in the early 1980s. She blamed her past drug use for having contracted the liver disease hepatitis C, according to the AP.
She is survived by a son, Robert Yancy, and two sisters, Timolin Cole and Casey Cole. Another sister, Carole Cole, died in 2009 and her brother, Nat Kelly Cole, died in 1995.