When Natalie Cole was a child, she absorbed the Great American Songbook through her pores. “People like Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and some of the writers, like Sammy Cahn, they would all get together and have parties,” said Cole, by phone from Los Angeles. “People like Pearl Bailey, Ella (Fitzgerald) and Peggy Lee, these were real friends of my mom and dad.”
Mom and dad were, of course, Maria and Nat King Cole. Natalie sang on her dad’s Christmas album at age 6.
So who better than Natalie Cole to collaborate with the Spokane Symphony on an evening of music from the golden era of American song?
In tonight’s show, she will sing many of the tunes from her 1991 blockbuster album, “Unforgettable … With Love” and her 2008 follow-up, “Still Unforgettable.”
She’ll do a few songs with her own rhythm section, but on most songs she’ll be backed by the biggest of big bands, the symphony orchestra.
“The symphony players love playing these kinds of charts,” said Cole. “They don’t see these kinds of charts very often and the arrangers that I use are some of the best.”
Please note that this show is at the INB Performing Arts Center, not the symphony’s usual home at The Fox, because of its larger capacity. Plenty of good seats are still available.
Cole is playing a full schedule of shows these days – in fact, she played the Northern Quest Casino in November – following a kidney transplant a year ago. She had earlier been diagnosed with hepatitis C and kidney disease.
“I am really doing great, wonderfully well,” she said. “My doctors are very pleased. My prognosis is that I’m going to live to be 100.
“Now, last year, I didn’t really start working again until September. I had the transplant in May and I took it pretty easy. … But this year, I’ve been given a clean bill of health, and we’re hittin’ it. We’re going everywhere.”
Cole’s early musical influences weren’t all of the Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra variety.
“My dad was on a label with the Beatles,” she said. “There was Jimi Hendrix. My dad was friendly with some of the people that came up in the Motown era. I really was exposed to many things.”
Her early career was built on R&B and contemporary pop. But that changed when she recorded “Unforgettable,” which featured songs from her father’s era and included a posthumous duet with him. It won six Grammys and sold 8 million copies.
If the success of “Still Unforgettable” in 2008 proved anything to Cole, it’s that this style of music is no mere retro fad. It endures through the generations.
“I don’t know of any genre of music that has the elegance and the class,” she said. “There’s something about this music that is so different from what we have, whether it’s rock and roll or pop or hip-hop. This music really does stand alone, it really does.”
Cole will be doing her part to keep the music alive tonight with her renditions of such tunes as “Nice ’n’ Easy,” “Come Rain or Come Shine” and “The Best is Yet to Come.”
She might even share some of her memories of what she called “quite a lively childhood.”
“One of my favorites was Pearl Bailey,” said Cole. “She was so funny. She was a great lady. She loved my dad. … She just doted on me and my sisters.”