Venerated R&B singer Natalie Cole received a soulful send-off at funeral services Monday, with fellow musicians Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson lauding the artist for her ability to transcend evolving musical tastes over her decades-long career.
"You don't maintain a 40-plus-year career by accident," said songwriter David Foster. "It's just a short list of real singers who could prevail against the changing tide of public taste. Natalie transcended this simple genre classification whether it was R&B, sassy in her early hits, or her later work interpreting the jazz standards."
Hundreds of mourners gathered at West Angeles Church of God in Christ in South Los Angeles to bid farewell to the songstress during a three-hour service marked by touching tributes from famous friends, including Wonder, who sang an a cappella rendering of The Lord's Prayer. Chaka Khan and Gladys Knight were in the audience, while the Rev. Jesse Jackson sat on the stage.
President Obama sent a letter of condolence to Cole's son, Robert Yancy.
Cole, 65, died of congestive heart failure on New Year's Eve. The singer suffered from hepatitis C, and she experienced complications from a 2009 kidney transplant from which she never fully recovered, according to her publicist, Maureen O'Connor. She had recently canceled several tour dates because of poor health.
She was best known as the iconic voice behind songs that have become R&B standards of love and devotion, such as "This Will Be," "Our Love" and "Inseparable." But she was equally celebrated for overcoming adversity and carving out her own identity and style apart from her legendary father, jazz singer Nat King Cole.
"Natalie had one extra pressure that she was faced with every day of her life," said singer Lionel Richie. "She was a little girl who wanted to be a superstar in a family that already had a superstar. That's what make her prize of winning so unforgettable."
After the service, a line of cars proceeded to Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, where Cole was buried alongside her parents and other family members.
With a jazz- and gospel-infused voice, Cole sold more than 30 million albums and won nine Grammy Awards in a career that spanned four decades. Her 1991 album "Unforgettable … With Love" weaved together her voice with that of her late father, and it sold more than 6 million copies and won six Grammys, including album of the year.
Cole's twin sisters, Timolin Cole Augustus and Casey Cole Hooker, remembered their older sister — known to her family as "Sweetie" — as bossy, fearless, charitable and loyal.
Hooker said that as Cole's health declined, she contemplated her mortality, telling a friend she wanted her epitaph to read: "Natalie Cole, the daughter of a King, mother of a prince, and friend to all."