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Why She Sang the Blues: Natalie Cole's Legacy

Updated on October 16, 2016

The Tragic News

A Kiss Goodbye

A farewell gesture
A farewell gesture | Source

All Blues

Actor Roger Guenveur Smith in the one man stage play A Huey P. Newton Story described Eleanora “Billie Holiday” Fagan by recognizing, “said she funky junky, but she’s still a dead junky.” No matter the fortune and fame and accolades and awards, Natalie Maria Cole will forever be remembered for her drug habit. She had a strong voice and a few Grammy award-winning efforts, but the legacy she will leave involves crack rocks and bags of heroin. Here lies the essence of the blues. Far away from merely documenting the lows and devastation of existence of a human being, the blues acts as a philosophical framework which to portray life in all of its harshness, glory, and potential redemption. Also from Huey, the notion that it’s “all blues” encompasses the various music genres such as jazz, soul, rock & roll, disco, pop and hip hop spawned from the creative mind of Black men and women.

Miss Cole Expressing Joy

Pain belied by a smile
Pain belied by a smile | Source

Natural Instrument

All of these incarnations feature the tradition of Negro spirituals, call and response and the epitome of expression within the blues ideal. Because of the existential crises experienced by the African American have spanned over centuries, the achievements of Blacks have been put on the backburner or completely overlooked. So, Miss Cole’s entire catalogue pales in comparison to her unfortunate turn to the needle and crack pipe. Though she may have recorded platinum song collections and reached the levels of success within her multiple decades career, the memory of what she did on the microphone has been usurped by her encounters with narcotics.

A string of divas and ladies of song have experienced struggles with the bottle, stem, or belt. Their souls have been laid bare over beats and breaks and soaring strings. The blues allows for the most hurt, disturbed, and songstresses detrimental to themselves to communicate their pains and triumphs. Joy and pleasure may be found in between the lines of singers like Holiday and Whitney Houston. Their natural instrument in their voices captured the essence of what it’s like to live as talented, tortured Black women. What separates these singers from any others is their chemical dependency. The brief and momentary “relief” experienced after using provides at least a modicum of a sense that they can handle reality. But the irony is that they in fact seek to escape from the real world and venture into the realm of despondency. And what’s worse for Cole is the fact that he catalogue is not as strong as Holiday’s or Houston’s. Few if any radio stations or television channels or Internet podcasts cared to broadcast her songs. She shared a similar legacy with Bobbi Kristina Brown in that their parents outshone their efforts. Most media sources only introduced the deaths of these singers as the daughter of Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston and Nathaniel Adams Coles best known as Nat King Cole. With health issues including hepatitis C and a kidney disease brought on most likely by the medicine she used to combat the hepatitis, Cole had to face her latter years with the knowledge that her drug use precipitated her illness, allegedly.

One Last Look

Miss cole posing in one of her final photographs
Miss cole posing in one of her final photographs | Source

On its Head

Her downfall regarding addiction stems from the alleged lack of self-esteem. While some people would hold self-esteem as an automatic and given aspect of life the truth is that it is earned. Cole’s case is that she may have been shattered by her father’s death at such a young age which she then chose sadly to explore substances destructive to life. And despite the fact that she did not die as a result of an overdose, allegedly, the drugs did her in over the years. From the point of view of an outsider, the world must’ve seemed bright. She had garnered honors and supporters for which some artists could only yearn. Yet, the call of the sweet release of a given substance sidetracked Cole and lead her to feel that she could cope. In actuality, her descent hastened her addiction and caused her world to be turned on its head. With that in mind, though her name may be hard to forget, the true act of remembering Cole will be to say that she possessed an extraordinary talent but lived through darkness. And that lends itself to the Black experience as a whole. The fact that she used heavy drugs and dueled with the duality of a developed gift and the extreme pressures of the business of music display a woman torn apart by her consciousness. Her failure to contend with reality only exacerbated her condition. Just like Black folks: always singing the blues.

She Sang of Love


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