Natalie Cole was born in Los Angeles, California, on February 6, 1950, to singers Nat King Cole and Maria Cole. Although she didn’t plan on a singing career, she took a summer job singing with a band in 1972. Albums soon followed, as well as two Grammy Awards for her debut album, Inseparable (1975). After a bout with addiction, Cole returned in the 1990s with Unforgettable… with Love, featuring renditions of songs previously sung by her father. Cole died in 2015 at the age of 65.
Natalie Maria Cole was born on February 6, 1950, to vocal legend Nat King Cole and jazz singer Maria Cole in Los Angeles, California. Growing up with talented and renowned parents, Cole was raised in an environment that nurtured her natural musical ability. At the age of 6, she recorded “I’m Good Will, Your Christmas Spirit” with her father, and by age 11, the young songstress had begun performing in the community.
Natalie Cole’s world suddenly changed when she was 15 years old: In February 1965, her father died of cancer. The tragedy put a strain on Cole’s relationship with her mother. Later that same year, her mother moved the family to Massachusetts, where Natalie attended Northfield Mount Hermon High School.
Although a career in music would be an obvious choice for Cole, she set her sights on something different: Following high school, she enrolled at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she majored in child psychology. She briefly transferred to the University of Southern California, where she pledged the Upsilon Chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. Her time at USC was short-lived, however, as she soon transferred back to the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in 1972.
Cole, who had begun performing again over a summer break in Amherst, at a venue called “The Pub,” met the writing and producing team of Chuck Jackson and Marvin Yancy in 1975. The duo helped Cole land a deal with Capitol Records and, later that year, create the album Inseparable. With hit songs such as “This Will Be (An Everlasting Love),” the album exploded onto the music scene, earning the young starlet her first two Grammy Awards—for best new artist and best female R&B performance.
Cole’s career took flight, and throughout the 1970s, she turned out four gold and two platinum records. Her third—and first platinum—album, Unpredictable (1977), donned yet another No. 1 R&B hit: “I’ve Got Love on My Mind.”
In 1979, Cole was awarded her very own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, both signifying and solidifying her prowess as a performer.
Cole hit a lull in her career in the early 1980s due to her struggle with drug addiction, subsequently parting ways with Capitol Records. She began recording again after a stint in rehab in 1983, and was back on the charts with a megahit by the mid-’80s: “Pink Cadillac.”
In 1991, Cole released the career-defining album for which she is best known, Unforgettable… with Love. Her debut album with Elektra Records, Unforgettable pays tribute to her father, featuring many beautiful renditions of standards previously recorded by Nat King Cole. The album’s breakout single, “Unforgettable,” features a track dubbed over a previous Nat King Cole recording, as to create the sound of a father-daughter duet. The album sold more than 7 million copies and garnered several honors, including the coveted Grammy for album of the year.
The ’90s saw Cole release many other popular albums, including Snowfall on the Sahara and The Magic of Christmas (both released in 1999), an album of holiday standards recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra. Cole also launched her acting career before the end of the decade, appearing on television series of the time.
In 2001, Cole starred as herself in Livin’ for Love: The Natalie Cole Story, a TV-movie adaptation of her 2000 autobiography, Angel on my Shoulder. The book has been described as an exposé of the private struggle that accompanied Cole’s rise to fame. Also in 2000, Elektra released Natalie Cole: Greatest Hits, Vol. 1, an album highlighting the singer’s career.
Cole’s 2008 release, Still Unforgettable, was well-received, winning the singer yet another Grammy, this time for best traditional pop vocal album.
Love and Marriage
In 1976—not long after Inseparable was released—Cole married producer Marvin Yancy. An ordained Baptist minister, Yancy reintroduced religion to Cole, who became a devout Babtist during their union. The couple welcomed their son, Robert Adam Yancy, into the world in 1977, before divorcing in 1980.
Cole remarried in 1989, to record producer Andre Fisher. The couple divorced in 1995. She wed her third husband, Bishop Kenneth Dupree, in 2001. The marriage was short-lived, however, ending in 2005.
Personal Life and Death
The death of her father greatly affected Natalie Cole, which was obvious through her songwriting and tributes. In her 2000 autobiography, Angel on my Shoulder, Cole exposed her depression and heavy drug use throughout her career. She began using recreational drugs while attending college in Amherst. Cole’s addiction became so prominent in her life that on more than one occasion it nearly killed her. She overcame her addiction after checking into rehab in 1983.
In 2008, Cole was diagnosed with hepatitis C, a disease of the liver. Because of the strain hepatitis C takes on your body, Cole’s kidneys began to fail. She was lucky enough to receive a kidney transplant in 2009 at USC.
Natalie Cole died on December 31, 2015 at the age of 65 in Los Angeles. Her family released a statement saying, “It is with heavy hearts that we bring to you all the news of our Mother and sister’s passing. Natalie fought a fierce, courageous battle, dying how she lived..with dignity, strength and honor. Our beloved Mother and sister will be greatly missed and remain UNFORGETTABLE in our hearts forever.” Cole leaves behind a legacy as one of the most celebrated and iconic women in R&B.