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Legendary songstress Natalie Cole remembered

Stacy M. Brown | 1/8/2016, 6 a.m.
Tony Bennett said that he is deeply saddened about the death of legendary soul singer Natalie Cole and other celebrities ...
Natalie Cole

Tony Bennett said that he is deeply saddened about the death of legendary soul singer Natalie Cole and other celebrities like Jordin Sparks and Andy Cohen talked about their favorite songs the daughter of the late great Nat King Cole was known for.

Friends and family alike expressed their devastation over Cole, who died late Thursday night, December 31 at the age of 65. The cause of death was listed as congestive heart failure, but in recent years the “Unforgettable” singer underwent a kidney transplant.

“I have cherished the long friendship I had with her, her father Nat, and the family over the years,” said Bennett, an 18-time Grammy winner who in 2006 released the CD “Together” that featured duets with Nat King Cole. “Natalie was an exceptional jazz singer and it was an honor to have recorded and performed with her on several occasions. She was a lovely and generous person who will be greatly missed.”

Sparks, who rose to fame in 2007 after becoming the youngest singer to win “American Idol,” says she feels as though Cole has always been a part of her life.

“Her father is my favorite artist of all time. ‘Smile’ is a song I sing to myself whenever things get overwhelming,” Sparks said. “I sang ‘This Will Be’ on the American Idol tour and a few years later I had the honor of actually singing it with her on stage. I don’t remember what I sounded like, I was too much in awe of her but I sure remember her standing next to me. I will never forget that moment.”

A nine-time Grammy winner, Cole was born in Los Angeles on February 6, 1950. She was just eight when her father recorded his first album and carved out a path that his daughter would not only follow, but also excel at.

Nat King Cole died in 1965 at the age of 45 and 10 years later, his daughter won her first Grammy Award as Best New Artist because of her hit, “This Will Be,” which also won a Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Female.

In 1991, her tribute album, “Unforgettable… With Love,” won Album of the Year.

Her biggest hits included “Sophisticated Lady,” “Everlasting,” “Our Love,” “I’ve Got Love on My Mind,” and “Daydreaming.”

In recent years, Cole was diagnosed with kidney failure and started receiving dialysis treatments three times a week. Appearing on CNN, she made an appeal for a kidney donor.

Watching at home was a nurse named Esther who “serendipitously” had been on duty at the hospital one day when Natalie was in for treatment. “Oh, I took care of that lady,” the nurse told her niece, Jessica, who was also watching.

“She’s so nice, I wish I could help her find a kidney.”

Less than two months later, Jessica, who was only 30 years old and eight months pregnant, died unexpectedly of a stroke. Her aunt came forward and offered the kidney, because her niece was an organ donor. She was a perfect match with Natalie.

Ironically, the donor and her family were immigrants from El Salvador and Cole said the experience brought her even closer to the culture.

“I wouldn’t put it past the possibility that there is a spirit of Latino inside of me, because of this family,” Cole said at the time. “Ever since then, my passion for Spanish and everything Latin, all of a sudden became more intense. I couldn't even figure it out myself.”

When Cole got the news that a kidney was available, she was at the bedside of her beloved sister, Carole, who was dying of cancer and Cole had to rush into surgery and wasn’t there when her sister passed away. Her final album was a tribute to her sister.

“Losing Natalie Cole is a sad start to a new year,” said talk show host Andy Cohen.

Cole’s family, including her son Robert Yancy and sisters Timolin and Casey Cole also released a statement mourning her death. “Natalie fought a fierce, courageous battle, dying how she lived … with dignity, strength and honor,” the statement read. “Our beloved mother and sister will be greatly missed and remain unforgettable in our hearts forever.”