Singapore International Jazz Festival 2014: Late dad still inspires Natalie Cole

Natalie Cole's latest release, an album of Spanish songs titled Natalie Cole En Espanol, features the voice of her late father on a duet of Spanish tune Acercate Mas.

"It was always my favourite song when I was a little girl," says Cole, 64. "I remember when he first started singing it. My first trip to Mexico was with my dad. I just remember that song standing out for me. The original had this lady singing this opera thing in the back. It used to make me laugh."

The multiple Grammy winner, one of the marquee acts at the Singapore International Jazz Festival at Marina Bay Sands, will perform tomorrow at the venue's Event Plaza - in a concert also featuring British acid-jazz outfit Incognito, The Asian Jazz All-Stars Power Quartet led by Jeremy Monteiro, singer Melissa Tham as well as Swedish trio Dirty Loops.

In a telephone interview from Los Angeles, the R&B/jazz singer says that the album, inspired by her father's repertoire of Spanish songs, was something that she had always wanted to do.

"It took a long time to put this project together. We've been working on it for 10 years, so it's not like we just came up with the idea," says the singer best known for the critically and commercially successful 1991 album, Unforgettable... With Love, which also featured a duet of the Irving Gordon-penned song, Unforgettable, with her late father.

"But it just took a minute to find the right producers, the right time, the right record label. People who would literally take the chance on somethi ng like this from an American artist."

Artistically, the move to record an album in Spanish, which was released last year, paid off. Natalie Cole En Espanol was nominated in three categories in the recent Latin Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year.

Although it did not win, it did pick up the World Music Album award at the NAACP Image Award, an annual ceremony that honours American people of colour.

And her success comes despite some personal tragedies in recent times.

In the past few years, she has lost both her adoptive sister, actress and music producer Carole "Cookie" Cole, to lung cancer, and her mother, jazz singer Maria Cole, to stomach cancer. Her father died of lung cancer at the age of 45, when she was 15.

"It's just a part of life, but it's tough," she says of their deaths. "You just kind of get through it every day, but I think there is always a little bit of sadness that you carry with you.

"I don't think that anybody can lose anyone they are close to. They're always in your heart and sometimes, when really nice things happen, you wish that they could be there to share with you.

"But we have to go on. We can't stop, so I just do a lot things. I think about my mum when I do a lot of things."

Natalie suffered from kidney failure, but received a kidney transplant in 2009 from an organ donor who died of a stroke.

"It's still a little challenging. I really have to stay on top of it, that's all I can say," she replies when asked about her health now. "A lot of it is attitude and the rest is listening to what the doctor tells you. And that's how I am able to do what I do and continue to do it well."

Born and raised in Los Angeles, she made her singing debut at the age of six singing with her father on a Christmas single, I'm Goodwill, Your Christmas Spirit (1956). After his death, Cole studied child psychology, graduating from the University of Massachusetts in 1972, and started singing in clubs only after she finished school.

Her debut album, Inseparable (1975), won her two Grammys: Best New Artist and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. She went on to win seven more Grammys over the years.

Her 23 studio albums, which run the gamut from pop and R&B to soul and jazz, have sold more than 30 million albums worldwide. Cole - who is thrice-married, with a 37-year-old son from her first marriage, but is now single - still stands by her father's advice to never let her position as an artist overshadow her music.

"If the music has a message, I think that's a good thing, but I think that you should always let the music speak for itself and not try to be the star. If the music is good, it will make you a star."

She is already planning her 24th album, getting ready to meet potential producers. "I'm not sure yet what the theme is going to be but maybe more American-type music. And I'm not too sure what genre, maybe jazzy, maybe," she says.

"I always love the American classics so we might be talking about doing something like that."

Life! is the official media partner of the Singapore International Jazz Festival.


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