Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Natalie Cole, legacy of a songstress

by Kimberly Bailey-Tureaud

Six-time Grammy Award-winner Natalie Cole will once again grace a Las Vegas stage, when she appears May 21 at the Cannery hotel and casino.

One of the most naturally gifted singers of her generation — “This Will Be (An Everlasting Love),” “Inseparable” and “Our Love” are among her best-known hits — Cole is feeling especially triumphant these days on the road back to the entertainment capital.

Two years ago, Cole appeared on Larry King’s CNN talk show to disclose her battle with renal failure — “My kidneys stopped functioning,” she said on the program, “they stopped, you know, processing the fluid that was starting to build up in my body” — and make a plea for a kidney donor to step forward. Last November, she returned to the show to announce that a donor had been found.

Even as she fought life-threatening illness, Cole never lost her passion for performing. The 2008 jazz album “Still Unforgettable,” a follow-up to the landmark 1991 LP “Unforgettable…With Love,” earned her both a Grammy and an NAACP Image award. “Timing is everything, and I wasn’t in a hurry to make this kind of a record right away,” Cole says. “Something about now just seemed the right time. There is never a guarantee of success when you are ready to put out a record — especially one like this. You have to go with your gut, but I didn’t want to be shamelessly chasing after the success of ‘Unforgettable…With Love,’ so I waited.”

The classic sounds on that album stand in stark contrast to Cole’s view of today’s popular music, which she feels has lost too much mystique. “Many songwriters these days seem to feel that they have to tell it all,” she said. “They don’t allow the audience to imagine. Everything is so graphic — there is no mystery.”

Las Vegas is familiar terrain for the Cole family. In the the 1950s and ’60s, Natalie’s father, Nat King Cole, was one of the city’s most popular performers. In his book “Looking Up! Finding My Voice in Las Vegas,” Dr. William H. “Bob” Bailey wrote about some of the experiences he shared with Nat King Cole during some of the uglier periods in Vegas’ civil rights history. “One night when Nat was performing at the Sands, I tagged along with him and Al Freeman, the Sands’ publicity director, as they headed to the Tropicana,” Bailey wrote. “Nat wanted to say hello to an old friend who was appearing there, fellow performer Arthur Lee Simpkins. But we were abruptly stopped at the front door by security and reminded that blacks were not welcome in the hotel. ‘Don’t you know who this is? This is Nat King Cole,’ Freeman protested. ‘I don’t care if he is the black Jesus. He can’t come in,’ the guard snapped. Al was about to deck him, but Nat cooled him down.”

Those days have long passed and Nat King Cole’s daughter is once again a headliner at one of Vegas’ elite venues. “I still love recording and still love the stage,” she said. “But like my dad, I have the most fun when I am in front of that glorious orchestra or that kick-butt big band.”

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