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.
Musician Stevie Wonder performs at a celebration of Natalie Cole’s life at the West Angeles Church of God in Christ.(Larry Busacca / Getty Images)
A general view of the atmosphere at the celebration for singer Natalie Cole.(Larry Busacca / Getty Images)
Singer-songwriter Lionel Richie was among those in attendance at the memorial for Natalie Cole.(Larry Busacca / Getty Images)
The audience is buoyant at the celebration for Natalie Cole, who died at the age of 65.(Larry Busacca / Getty Images)
Timolin Cole and Casey Cole at the celebration for legendary singger Natalie Cole. Several R&B legends were also in attendance.(Larry Busacca / Getty Images)
Singer Smokey Robinson gets a hug as he arrives for the funeral of fellow singer Natalie Cole at the West Angeles Church of God in Christ.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
The casket of singer Natalie Cole is carried out of the church.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
An artist’s rendering of singer Natile Cole sits outside the West Angeles Church of God in Christ.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
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.”
Natalie Cole sings her songs and her father’s (and Billie Holiday’s, among others) at the Hollywood Bowl in 1995.(Patrick Downs / Los Angeles Times)
In 1994, Reba McEntire, left, sings with Natalie Cole in a duet of “Since I Fell For You” during the Rhythm & Blues and Country Benefit Concert at the Universal Amphitheater.(Randy Leffingwell / Los Angeles Times)
In 1999, Cole, second from left, poses with her Whitney Young Award. With her are Yoshio Ishizaka, left, then-president and CEO of Toyota Motor Sales; John Mack, then-president of the Los Angeles Urban League; and Nancy Wilson, 1992 Whitney Young Award Honoree.(Guy Crowder)
In 2000, Natalie Cole listens as Ray Charles talks about her father, Nat King Cole, backstage at the 15th Annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Dinner. Charles presented Nat King Cole’s award to his three daughters.(Ed Betz / Associated Press)
In 2003, Natalie Cole and her then-husband, Kenneth Dupree, arrive at the Latin Grammy Awards in Miami.(Scott Gries / Getty Images)
Natalie Cole performing at Stevie Wonder’s Eighth Annual House Full of Toys Benefit Concert at the Forum in 2003.(Carlos Chavez / Los Angeles Times)
Faith Hill, left, and Natalie Cole perform in 2003 at a benefit dinner for Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)
In 2003, Natalie Cole performs at the Forum during Stevie Wonder’s Eighth Annual House Full of Toys Benefit Concert.(Carlos Chavez / Los Angeles Times)
Cole in the 2004 Blues documentary “Lightning in a Bottle."(Paul Brissman / Sony Pictures Classics)
Cole performs “Unforgettable” at the White House for the Governor’s Dinner in 2004.(Paul Morse / White House Photo Office)
In 2005, Natalie Cole peforms at the mayoral inagural gala for Antonio Villaraigosa at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.(Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)
Natalie Cole performs in 2006 at the Kodak Theatre for the “Evening of Stars” event in which Aretha Franklin was honored by the United Negro College Fund.(Earl Gibson / Associated Press)
Cole with Seal at the 50th Annual Grammy Awards at the Staples Center in 2008.(Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times)
Natalie Cole makes her entrance to perform at the Hollywood Bowl in September 2009; the concert had been delayed while she went through a liver transplant in July.(Alex Gallardo / Los Angeles Times)
Multiple Grammy winner Natalie Cole hosts the Grammy Salute to Jazz and tribute to Blue Note Records at Club Nokia in 2009.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
The 2010 book “Love Brought Me Back: A Journey of Loss and Gain,” by Natalie Cole with David Ritz.(Julie Brothers / Simon & Schuster)
Natalie Cole is interviewed after being nominated for a Latin Grammy in September 2013.(Chris Pizzello / Invision)
Natalie Cole performs at “An Evening of SeriousFun Celebrating the Legacy of Paul Newman,” at Avery Fisher Hall in New York in March.(Evan Agostini / Invision)
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.”