Natalie was born and raised in Los Angeles where she was exposed early to many of the great singers of the time not only through their music but in person through her father, Nat, and mother Maria Hawkins who was a former singer with the Duke Ellington Orchestra.
After graduating from college, Cole began performing in small clubs with her band Black Magic, concentrating more on R&B and rock than the jazz and pop of her parents time. After hooking up with producers, Chuck Jackson and Marvin Yancy, Cole recorded a number of sides and was signed by Capitol Records.
The result was her debut album, 1975’s Inseparable, which included her breakout hits This Will Be (1975 / #6 Pop / #1 R&B) and Inseparable (1975 / #32 Pop / #1 R&B). At the Grammys, she took Best Female R&B Performance for This Will Be along with Best New Artist.
Cole followed the next year with the album Natalie, further expanding the genres that she could cover with her voice and style on the funky Sophisticated Lady (She’s a Different Lady) (1976 / #25 Pop / #1 R&B) and the jazzy Mr. Meldoy (1976 / #49 Pop / #10 R&B).
Natalie’s third album, Unpredictable, became her biggest to date, going platinum and producing the hits I’ve Got Love on My Mind (1977 / #5 Pop / #1 R&B), Party Lights (1977 / #79 Pop / #9 R&B) and Our Love (1977 / #10 Pop / #1 R&B). Later in 1977, she became the first female artist to have two platinum albums in one year with Thankful.
Cole continued to have hits through the rest of the 70’s but, as the 80’s dawned, her drug addiction began to take a toll and, in 1983, she reportedly entered a rehab facility for six months. Although she occasionally still had hits (Someone That I Used to Love (1980 / #21 Pop / #21 R&B / #3 AC), I Love For Your Love (1987 / #13 Pop / #4 R&B / #2 AC), Pink Cadillac (1988 / #5 Pop / #9 R&B / #16 AC), Miss You Like Crazy (1989 / #7 Pop / #1 R&B / #1 AC)), it was in 1991 that she had the biggest album of her career.
Unforgettable…With Love saw Natalie cover the music of her father and included the hit Unforgettable, a duet with her late-father that went to number 14 on the Hot 100, 10 on the R&B and 3 on the Adult Contemporary charts. The album, itself, was the breakout hit, going seven times platinum and winning Album of the Year at the Grammys while the single won Record of the Year and Best Traditional Pop Vocal Performance.
For the next several years, Cole concentrated on pop and jazz standards with Take a Look, Stardust and the holiday album Holly & Ivy but, in 1999, returned to a more up-to-date style with Snowfall on the Sahara. The balance of her career showed a mix of contemporary and standards releases but she only made inroads onto the AC charts with a couple of singles.
Later in her career, Cole also tried her hand at acting on programs like Touched by an Angel, Law & Order: SVU and Gray’s Anatomy. She also wrote an autobiography, 2000’s Angel on My Shoulder.
Even though Cole was able to beat her drug habit and stayed clean for the last thirty-plus years of her life, she did have residual illnesses from her time using cocaine and other substances. In 2009, she had a kidney transplant due to hepatitis C she contracted while using drugs. That disease also caused her to cancel a number of appearances in the last three months.