From Frank Sinatra to Whitney Houston: Natalie Cole’s greatest duets

Natalie Cole at the Latin Grammy Awards in 2013 in Los Angeles. In addition to being a hitmaker, the singer was an expert collaborator.

Natalie Cole at the Latin Grammy Awards in 2013 in Los Angeles. In addition to being a hitmaker, the singer was an expert collaborator.

(Chris Pizzello / Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

One measure of Natalie Cole’s artistry was her way with a duet. She seemed to revel in the intimacy of vocal collaboration, exuding an effervescence that could levitate the standards.

She could carry a song, of course, as evidenced by her famously convincing argument on the power of "Everlasting Love." Cole, who died Thursday night at age 65, seemed to step it up when others joined her, though, reveling in whichever voice she entangled with hers.

Most famously, she virtually resurrected her father, Nat “King” Cole, for her career redefining, Grammy-winning album of duets, “Unforgettable... with Love.” But Natalie also shared microphones and swapped lyrics with peers who have since become legends. Below, some highlights from across the decades.

Natalie Cole and Whitney Houston, “I Say a Little Prayer.” Two experts take on a song made famous by Aretha Franklin. Franklin, perhaps intimidated by the upstart competition, at one point famously gave Cole the brush-off. Based on Cole’s and Houston’s version here, Franklin was right to be nervous. The pair illuminate the Burt Bacharach- and Hal David-penned work in ways that a single soul, even one as powerful as Franklin's, can only aspire to.

Natalie Cole and Frank Sinatra, “I Get a Kick Out of You.” Like many of Nat “King” Cole’s popular peers, Frank Sinatra grew up with an eye on Natalie. Talented from an early age, she appears in one famous black and white photo sitting at a piano with her father standing above. (Talk about a lesson in collaboration.)

A few decades later Sinatra teamed with Natalie on “Sinatra and Friends,” his 1977 prime-time special. Sinatra, no slouch in the chops department, must have been impressed. Sixteen years later, they reunited to record “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” on Sinatra’s “Duets” album.

Van Morrison and Natalie Cole, “These Are the Days.” In addition to Sinatra, Cole teamed with another curmudgeonly song stylist, Van Morrison, who invited her to sing “These Are the Days” on his own "Duets: Re-working the Catalog." Originally taken from his 1989 album "Avalon Sunset," Morrison and Cole add a candlelit gentleness to the new interpretation.

Natalie and Ruben Studdard, “When I Fall in Love.” In 2010 during peak “American Idol” worship, Cole was joined by “Idol” runner-up Ruben Studdard as part of a "David Foster & Friends" celebration. Foster, who co-produced "Unforgettable ... with Love," understood talent, and it's on full display.

Natalie Cole and Nat "King" Cole, "Unforgettable." Cole conjured her father Nat’s spirit for “Unforgettable ... with Love,” a 1991 album of beyond-the-grave collaborations between father and son. Somewhat controversial at the time — Tupac’s holographic resurrection was years away — the album nonetheless was a breakout success. In the end, “Unforgettable” earned multiple Grammys, and set the stage for countless such death-defying duets.

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