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Grammy Award-Winning Singer Natalie Cole Dies At 65


The singer Natalie Cole, the daughter of Nat King Cole, has died. Her family said in a statement today, our beloved mother and sister will be greatly missed and remain unforgettable in our hearts forever.


NATALIE COLE: (Singing) It's very clear.

CORNISH: I'm joined now by Jason King. He's NPR Music's R&B expert. Hey there, Jason.


CORNISH: So as we've been hearing throughout the day, Natalie Cole passed away in Los Angeles. She was 65. And she was really a part of jazz royalty, not just her dad.

KING: Yeah, and I would say not just even jazz royalty. I mean, she was part of the black pop tradition that goes back many, many years. But she came through her father, and of course was connected to him - met so many great long-standing figures in popular music through him. At home, they would come over and visit and so on, so she got to know popular music in a really interior way. And then she herself became this star in the 1970s, but in R&B.

CORNISH: Right, her first album came when she was 25. This came in 1975. And she had a really big single which I remember still dancing to, which is "This Will Be An Everlasting Love."


COLE: (Singing) This will be an everlasting love. This will be the one I've waited for. This will be the first time anyone has loved me.

CORNISH: Jason King, tell us about her early career.

KING: Well, in the 1970s everybody wanted to be Aretha Franklin, but nobody was exactly Aretha Franklin. Franklin won almost every Grammy you could imagine. She kept winning the best female R&B vocal year after year. Nobody could dethrone her. And it wasn't until 1975, when Natalie Cole comes along with the "Inseparable" album, with the hit "This Will Be," among other hits, that she takes the Grammy for best female R&B vocal. And that's the first time in, I think, eight years that Aretha Franklin doesn't receive that award. And Natalie Cole really does ascend to this position of being one of the most sought-after R&B vocalists of her time.

CORNISH: Right, she's got these Grammies, a platinum album. And then her career begins to suffer in the '80s. And this is when - and she's written about this in more than one memoir, about her problems with hard drugs and alcohol, and that she had to go to rehab twice. Here's Natalie Cole speaking to NPR in 2006 about this.


COLE: I think probably one of the most difficult things that can happen to you when you're dealing either with an addiction or a depression - the hardest thing to do is to go out and sing music or to play music or to create music. I think it was just really difficult. I found myself in just too much of a dark place to want to be creative.

CORNISH: And yet, she did, right, Jason King? How did she bounce back from that?

KING: Sure, in the late '80s she started to have hits again. She recorded the song "Pink Cadillac," which was a big hit, I think, in 1988.


COLE: (Singing) I love you for your pink Cadillac, fresh leather seats...

KING: And then she had a huge comeback in 1991 with the album "Unforgettable With Love," which was basically a jazz turn for her. But they were using technology so that she could actually record with her father, Nat Cole, who passed away the late 1960s. So it was this really interesting kind of reconciliation moment of Natalie Cole, the daughter of pop royalty, singing with her father in this really touching and sentimental way.


NAT KING COLE: (Singing) Unforgettable, that's what you are.

COLE: (Singing) Unforgettable, though near or far.

CORNISH: She actually spoke to Weekend Edition Saturday about that in 2013.


COLE: It was very, very difficult, very hard for me, because I'd never had the chance to really spend time working with him. The "Unforgettable" record was done in tribute to my dad. It was my way of saying goodbye because when he passed away, I was in school, actually, on the East Coast in boarding school when he passed.


NATALIE COLE AND NAT KING COLE: (Singing) That's why, darling, it's incredible.

CORNISH: Jason King, "Unforgettable" obviously was such a big song, and people so tie her to her father. But how will you remember Natalie Cole. I mean, is there a song for you that really encapsulates her work?

KING: I look at Natalie Cole as one of the great R&B of the last 40 years. I think the legacy of hits that she's had is a testament to that. One of my favorite tracks from her is from her live album from the late 1970s, and it's a song that was very popular for her in the live arena. It's called "I'm Catching Hell." And the reason I love it so much is because it shows the incredible range that she had and the ability to soulfully dig deep into a song. But it's also autobiographical. And I think it was about the trials and tribulations that she was going through at the time.


COLE: It says, if I had the second chance, oh, I'd do it a whole lot differently. How many of us can say that tonight?


COLE: (Singing) Oh, yeah.

CORNISH: Jason, thanks so much for talking with us.

KING: Thank you, Audie.


COLE: (Singing) I'm catching hell, living here all alone.

CORNISH: That was music writer and producer Jason King, remembering Natalie Cole. Cole died yesterday at the age of 65.


COLE: (Singing) ...Oh lord, that you mean so much to me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.