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FAREWELL NATALIE
“I’m not just a singer, I’m a story teller, a stylist. ‘Miss You Like Crazy’ is representative of this. It’s kind of a sad song especially if you have someone in your life that you’re used to being with, or they’re out of town or whatever. It’s the first sad song I’ve done in a long while” so sayeth Natalie Cole to me in a chat during 1989 when I met up with her at London’s Mayfair Hotel. The star was dressed in a black jacket and high-waisted matching ski pants, a cheeky black hat and a pair of multi-coloured boots on her feet. How I kick myself for not taking my camera along that day!

The soul fraternity reeled with shock when we learned that Natalie had died last Thursday from suspected congestive heart failure. It wasn’t something we expected and being the start of a new year, hell, it hurt all the more. Natalie had struggled with a variety of health issues in recent years following her cocaine addiction which was the result of her experimenting with LSD and heroin. A first trip to rehab failed, but the second one took, and she remained sober for the remainder of her life. “Natalie fought a fierce, courageous battle, dying how she lived, with dignity, strength and honour,” her family said.

In 1989, Natalie Cole was in London town promoting her new album “Good To Be Back” which housed the breathtaking “Miss You Like Crazy”, alongside “Gonna Make You Mine”, “Rest Of The Night” and a beautiful duet with Freddie Jackson entitled “I Do”. The album followed her runaway hit project “Everlasting” which spawned four UK top thirty singles.

“I’ve probably been through everything so I don’t think there’s anything missing. I tell you, my life and career haven’t been boring at all. Someone asked me did I have anyone in mind when I was singing ‘I Live For Your Love’? I didn’t, so I just pretended. I think if anything it was more spiritual. I was thinking about God. But I was also thinking to myself most women are devastated to think we just live for a man’s love. No man should ever know that a woman lives for his existence. But it turned out that so many loved that record; many different interpretations were put on it, but it doesn’t matter now.”

It became general knowledge that Natalie battled with drugs and weakened several times. “But the people around me just wouldn’t let me give up the battle. Or something inside of me would say ‘who the hell do you think you are, how can you give up just like that?’ It would have been so easy but my conscience wouldn’t let me. I was still signed to a record company and they wouldn’t let me. It was pretty bad because what happened for a while, especially after the drugs, was nobody wanted anything to do with me, and that can be very hurtful and damaging to one’s ego as well as your career. In fact, you can forget your career! People were afraid to take a risk to hire me, record companies were afraid to have contracts with me because they really didn’t know if I was gonna cut it or not.”

It took an inner strength to go public with this and at the time of this interview, Natalie didn’t know why she had so openly spoken of her nightmare. “It haunts me everywhere I go. It’s really not anybody’s fault that they want to know so much about it. There’s just something unique about a person who has been through the fire and emerges victorious. I went to hell and back and survived, and I guess that takes a lot of courage, although I don’t know how much courage I had at the time. I think I was more afraid of being left behind than anything else…that was my biggest fear. I just couldn’t see myself dropping off the face of the earth. It’s not my style and I didn’t know how strong I was until it happened to me. I feel great now.”

Natalie’s star was rising high in the seventies with hits like “This Will Be”, “Inseperable” and “Our Love”, while in the next decade she released what many called her ‘comeback’ single (but she never really went away did she?) with a version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Pink Cadillac”. She told me – “It was important to have a hit. People really liked ‘Pink Cadillac’ because it was fun and didn’t say anything in particular. For it to come from a girl, and a black girl at that, and for it to be a Springsteen song, well, all these elements went together to make it what it was.” As far as the UK was concerned, when this single hit the top five, “Jump Start” was re-issued as the follow-up to “Everlasting”. Then, towards the end of the eighties, the rising star was shining brightly with the “Good To Be Back” album and the lifted, and before mentioned, single “Miss You Like Crazy”, a top two beauty. Around this time, I think, I went with Gloria Jones to see Natalie in concert – what a star presence the lady had on stage. We were totally mesmerised. Natalie also performed at the Nelson Mandela charity gala, staged at Wembley. “That concert was something really different. I’ve never done anything like that before.” I remember it well because I was a little incensed that the lady was clumped together with Al Green, Jonathan Butler and Ashford & Simpson, while other white acts were afforded more generous performing time. Hey ho, not for me to say, but it was a move Natalie noticed also.

Other UK hits followed through the remainder of the eighties – “Rest Of The Night”, “Starting Over Again” – with the amazing “Unforgettable” (with her late father, Nat King Cole) hitting the top twenty in 1991. She also won nine Grammy awards, including 1992 Album of the Year and Record of the Year for “Unforgettable…With Love”. But Natalie wasn’t only about singing, she made several appearances in US television programmes including my beloved “Law And Order: Special Victims Unit”, penned her autobiography “Angel On My Shoulder”, and was a regular supporter of numerous charities, helping others.

By 2009 the lady’s health was deteriorating and she had a kidney transplant after developing Hepatitis C which she blamed on her previous drug use. This led to her becoming a major force at the University Kidney Research Organisation, a group dedicated to eradicating kidney disease. During 2014 Natalie joined others like, Gladys Knight, to perform at the Apollo Theatre’s 80th birthday celebrations, and from then on her public appearances were less and concerts were cancelled. She was 65 years old when she died. Her presence in this world and her musical legacy will, like her father’s before her, live on for generations to come. We were blessed having her in our lives.

“I’m a singer of songs….I don’t know that I’m a singer of only soul songs. I know I sing with a lot of soul, and that there’s something in my voice that makes people want to listen and that’s what is important.”

(On behalf of myself, David and Michael and all at SoulMusic.com I would like to send our warmest wishes and condolences to Natalie’s family and friends at this extremely sad time. Natalie Cole touched our lives and for that we will be hugely grateful.)


About the Writer
Sharon Davis ran the Four Tops fan club before spearheading Motown Ad Astra, catering for all the Motown acts, where she edited the in-house magazine TCB. Was publicist for Fantasy, Stax and Salsoul before joining Motown Records in London. Formed her own press/promotion company Eyes & Ears, worked for Blues & Soul magazine and website, and became a full time author and researcher. To date Sharon has written eleven books (her last A Girl Called Dusty published by Carlton Books) and she’s working on her next - Divas Of Motown. As a researcher, Sharon assisted Diana Ross with her autobiography Secrets Of A Sparrow, and is now in constant demand for her knowledge about Motown and its artists.
  
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