By Michael P Coleman
Over the course of over four decades, Natalie Cole emerged from the shadow of her famous father, the legendary Nat “King” Cole, and established a musical identity all her own.
Initially, she did so while nipping at the heels of Aretha Franklin, who had won the Best R & B Vocal Performance, Female Grammy for each of several years before Cole arrived and wrenched the prize from the Queen of Soul’s grasp. Cole also was awarded the Best New Artist Grammy upon her debut, and was the first African American artist in the history of the Grammy Awards to do so.
Cole released a series of critically and commercially successful albums beginning in 1975, before being sidelined by heroin and cocaine addiction. By the time she left Capital for a one album stint at CBS Records, her voice had been rendered a remnant of its former glory.
After most had counted her out, Cole emerged from rehab in the mid-1980s and showcased a voice that was stronger than ever. She clawed her way back with a series of serviceable pop albums that included radio hits “Pink Cadillac,” “Miss You Like Crazy,” the vocally explosive “Jump Start,” and the triumphant “I Live For Your Love.” While it was Cole’s 1991 multi-platinum Unforgettable, With Love opus and its sentimental virtual duet with her father that finally made Cole a household name and international sensation, fans had surmised for quite some time that Nat “King” Cole had been smiling down on his little girl, whom he nicknamed “Sweetie.”
Throughout her career, “Sweetie” never stopped surprising critics and fans, beginning perhaps with her virtuosic live double album from 1977. Dubbed Natalie…Live, the project combined dynamic live versions of early hits like “I’m Catching Hell,” “I’ve Got Love On My Mind,” “Mr. Melody,” and “Sophisticated Lady” with surprises like “Que Sera Sera” and “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.” In Cole’s capable hands, those two covers were reworked as scorchingly as Patti LaBelle had put her stamp on “Over The Rainbow.” Fans of Cole’s latter-career pop purring may be shocked to hear a younger, gospel-infused Natalie burn the barn down on tracks like “Something’s Got A Whole Of Me,” “Can We Get Together Again,” and, perhaps most impressively, “Our Love.”
In the first of her two memoirs, 2000’s Angel On My Shoulder, Cole wrote that she was happy Capital Records had released Natalie…Live, as her addictions had robbed her of her memories of the tour. Fans of R & B are equally happy, as the album provides a vivid snapshot of one of the music industry’s true titans. On Natalie…Live, Cole proved she was at least as proficient on stage as she always was in the recording studio and one of the 20th century’s most dynamic recording artists.
Natalie…Live, and most of Natalie Cole’s catalog, is available on iTunes and Apple Music.
Connect with Sacramento-based freelancer Michael P Coleman at michaelpcoleman.com or follow him on Twitter: @ColemanMichaelP.
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