'She Captivated You': Casey Cole Remembers Her Sister, Natalie Cole | St. Louis Public Radio

'She Captivated You': Casey Cole Remembers Her Sister, Natalie Cole

Jan 2, 2016

Music lovers were shocked and saddened to hear of the death singer Natalie Cole on New Year's Eve. Cole was 65.

She was the daughter of jazz icon Nat King Cole but went on to create her own legacy, selling millions of albums across a wide range of genres and winning nine Grammy awards.

Two of Natalie Cole's younger sisters, twins Casey and Timolin Cole, run a nonprofit called The Nat King Cole Generation Hope, which is dedicated to supporting music education in public schools.

Casey Cole talked with NPR's Michel Martin about the life, art and legacy of her sister Natalie Cole.

Click on the audio link above to hear the conversation, or read below for some excerpts from the radio interview, as well as two Web-only Q&As.


Interview Highlights

On Natalie Cole as an artist

Her pitch was perfect. Her tone was amazing. When she sang, it was if she was literally singing to you. Similarly to our father, she drew you in, she captivated you. Not only with her voice, but with her charm, with her diction. When she sang it was if she really, really, really had a part of her in every single lyric of that song, so you were right there with her.

On the singer's early struggles with drugs

Natalie conquered, if you will, those demons, with her strength and with her faith and with the support of so many people around her. My sister was a warrior.

On her later health struggles

She never stopped performing, she never stopped working, she was a true artist-- very loyal to her craft and to her passion.

Her health was failing but her spirit was very, very strong. I think that most people who were faced with the challenges health-wise that she had been faced with over the last few years, would have given up. ... She needed to keep going, that's who she was. That was her gift to the world and her fans.

On Natalie Cole as a friend and sister

She was indeed quite a loyal friend to those who knew her, on so many different levels.

Even though she has only two sisters biologically left, Timolin and myself, there's so many people who will say, "She was my sister. She was like a sister to me."

And that was how incredible she was. When you were with her you felt like you were the only one in the world.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We want to end today's program talking about news that shocked and saddened music lovers.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MISS YOU LIKE CRAZY")

NATALIE COLE: (Singing) I miss you like crazy. I miss you like crazy.

MARTIN: On New Year's Eve, singer Natalie Cole died at the age of 65. She was the daughter of jazz icon Nat King Cole, but she went on to create her legacy. She sold millions of albums across a wide range of genres and had nine Grammy Awards on her shelf. You might know she comes from a musical family. Her mother Maria Cole performed with the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Her uncle Freddy Cole is a jazz musician in Atlanta. She also has several siblings, including younger twin sisters Casey and Timolin Cole, who run a nonprofit called the Nat King Cole Generation Hope, which is dedicated to supporting musical education in public schools. We wanted to learn more about Natalie Cole's contribution, so we've called Casey Cole, who lives in Boca Raton, Fla. Hello, Casey, and can I start by saying on behalf of all of us here and on behalf of your sister's fans how sorry I am for this loss. How are you and the rest of the family doing?

CASEY COLE: Well, I think it goes without saying that there's still just shock, airwaves of shock throughout the family and her close friends who are mourning such a tragic loss. And we are keeping each other supported in prayer and with loving thoughts of our sister and knowing that we're praying that she's finally at peace.

MARTIN: You know her as big sister, but what did you like about her as an artist?

C. COLE: Oh, my gosh. As an artist, I could go on and on. Her pitch was perfect. Her tone was amazing. When she sang, it was as if she was literally singing to you. So similarly to our father, she drew you in. She captivated you not only with her voice but with her charm, with her diction. You know, when she sang, it was as if she really, really, really had a part of her in every single - in every single lyric of that song. So you were right there with her if the feeling was joy or sadness. Oh, I think she just resonated that with her audience.

MARTIN: You mentioned the similarities with your father and the sense of his connection with the audience. One of the big moments obviously in her career was the release of "Unforgettable... With Love," which is an album of your father's hits which swept the awards at the Grammys in 1992. But I was always - you know, sometimes when you have a famous parent, it's a struggle trying to figure out how to balance honoring the legacy with forging their own way. Was that a struggle for her?

C. COLE: No, I don't think it was a struggle for her. I think it was a tribute and an honor. This is a way in which she was able to reconnect with her father and to share him again after so many years of his passing with the world.

MARTIN: She was also though very open about her struggles with drugs. I know she wrote about this in her autobiography "Angel On My Shoulder." And then later, she talked, you know, the health issues that she believes resulted, you know, from that. Can you talk about that a little bit?

C. COLE: I think that, first of all, Natalie had struggled very early in her career way back when she was - you're talking probably a span of over 30 years ago. Natalie conquered, if you will, those demons with her strength in God and with her faith and with the support of so many people around her. My sister was a warrior. She was like her father. She - she had some battles that she overcame. She - unfortunately, when she developed - and her hepatitis C came back after several years, her kidney had - was failing. And she - by the grace of God, she was able to receive the gift of a new kidney. Subsequent to that, she never stopped performing. She never stopped working. She was a true artist.

MARTIN: What would you want Natalie's fans to take away from her life or music? What would you want her legacy to be?

C. COLE: To dwell on the joyous moments. I think the joy that she brought to all of her fans, to understand that she would want us all to lean on our faith and to be reminded of her resolve and her stamina. I think that the world is grieving, perhaps some not even really knowing what they had. I mean, a lot of us are extremely blessed and lucky because we knew we had a glimpse into one of God's unforgettable gifted souls.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UNFORGETTABLE")

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

MARTIN: Casey Cole is the younger sister of the late Natalie Cole, who died on Thursday at the age of 65. Casey Cole, thank you so much for speaking with us. And thank you so much for the gift of your sister. And we're so sorry for your loss.

C. COLE: Thank you, Michel, and happy and healthy New Year to you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UNFORGETTABLE")

COLE: (Singing) Unforgettable in every way.

NAT KING COLE: (Singing) And forever more...

COLE: (Singing) And forever more...

NAT KING COLE: (Singing) That's how you'll stay.

COLE: (Singing) That's how you'll stay.

NATALIE COLE AND NAT KING COLE: (Singing) That's why, darling, it's incredible that someone so unforgettable thinks that I am unforgettable, too. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.