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Natalie Cole succumbs

Natalie Cole the singer (181276)
Natalie Cole the singer

A private service was held in Los Angeles for singer Natalie Cole, 65, who died New Year’s Eve at a L.A-area hospital of congestive heart failure. She had been suffering recently from hepatitis and other maladies.

Cole had been scheduled for a New Year’s Eve concert at Walt Disney Hall, which was cancelled.

The Los Angeles-born performer, whose parents were jazz great Nat King Cole and former Duke Ellington Orchestra singer Maria Hawkins Ellington, achieved worldwide acclaim in 1991, appearing in a mashup videotape with her late father, singing a duet of  “Unforgettable.” The single sold more than 6 million copies.

Her powerful cover of “This Will Be,” “Our Love” and “Pink Cadillac” were other cross-format hits.

Reared in the affluent Hancock Park district of Los Angeles, Cole referred to her family as “the Black Kennedys” and was exposed to many great singers of jazz, soul and blues. At the age of 6, Natalie sang on her father’s Christmas album and later began performing at age 11.

Cole grew up with older adopted sister Carole “Cookie” (1944-2009) (her mother Maria’s younger sister’s daughter); adopted brother Nat “Kelly” Cole (1959-95), and younger twin sisters Timolin and Casey (born 1961).

Cole enrolled in Northfield School, an elite New England preparatory school before her father died of lung cancer in February 1965. Soon afterwards, she began having a difficult relationship with her mother. She enrolled in the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Cole then transferred briefly to USC. She later transferred back to the University of Massachusetts, where she majored in child psychology and minored in German, graduating in 1972.

Following graduation, Cole, began singing at small clubs with her band, Black Magic. Clubs initially welcomed her due to her being Nat King Cole’s daughter, only to be disappointed when she began covering R&B and rock numbers. While performing, she was met a couple of producers in the Chicago area, Chuck Jackson and Marvin Yancy. They shopped her records to several record labels. Most labels turned them down with one exception. Capitol Records, her father’s label, heard the records and agreed to sign her.

Cole, Yancy and Jackson went into studios in Los Angeles to polish the recordings they had shipped, resulting in the release of Cole’s debut album, “Inseparable,” which included songs that reminded listeners of Aretha Franklin. In fact, Franklin later contended that songs such as “This Will Be,” “I Can’t Say No” and others were originally offered to her while she was recording her “You” album. Franklin turned most of the songs down but agreed to record the title track for her album. Cole also recorded “You.” Released in 1975, the album became an instant success thanks to “This Will Be,” which became a top 10 hit and later winning Cole a Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. A second single, “Inseparable,” also became a hit. Both songs reached number-one on the R&B chart. Cole also won Best New Artist at the Grammy Awards for her accomplishments.

Although she lived a privileged life, Cole fell victim to drug addiction and was so incapacitated by the disease that she wrote in her 2000 autobiography, “Angel On My Shoulder,” that she was barely able to escape a fire in her Las Vegas hotel in 1981.

In 1983, Cole spent several months at the Hazelden Clinic in Minnesota and, with her health intact, released a come-back album, “Dangerous,” in 1985.

Years after reclaiming her life from drug addiction, Cole was diagnosed with hepatitis C in 2008. She ended up having to obtain a kidney transplant.

While fighting her own battles, Cole was helping her sister, Cookie, battle cancer. Her sister died the morning Cole got a successful kidney transplant in May 2009.

Cole, who was married three times including to Yancy in 1976, is survived by a son, Robert Yancy, and her twin sisters, Timolin and Casey Cole.

City News Service contributed to this story.