Natalie Maria Cole was laid to rest on Monday, January 11, 2016. Cole was celebrated by some of the biggest names in the music industry and hundreds of family, friends, and fans paid tribute to the singer during a three-hour service at the West Angeles Church of God.
Angela Bassett, Kurt Carr and The Kurt Carr Singers, Freddy Cole, Quaford Coleman, Dr. Wanda Davis, Suzanne de Passe, David Foster, Johnny Gill, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Cookie Johnson, Starr Jones, Chaka Kahn, Gladys Knight, Ledisi, Eddie Levert, Johnny Mathis, Freda Payne, Lionel Ritchie, Smokey Robinson, Linda Thompson, Bishop Kenneth C. Ulmer, Courtney B. Vance, and Stevie Wonder, were among the many who came to pay their last respects to the legendary singer.
Cole, 65, died on New Year’s Eve from pulmonary arterial hypertension, which led to heart failure induced by lung disease. Dr. Melvin W. Wade, Sr., officiated the celebration of Cole’s life and reminded those in attendance that they “were there for worship and to celebrate.” And celebrate they did.
A video retrospective of Cole’s life was shown. During the video attendees witnessed Cole describe the thrill of wining her first Grammy award for Best R&B singer. It was special, she said, because Aretha Franklin had won in that particular category nine years in a row and she “broke Aretha’s winning streak.”
The video also highlighted Cole’s performance of Unforgettable with her father, the magnificent Nat King Cole. Of that performance Cole said, “I see a little girl in the video and not Natalie the star.”
“Natalie’s star has not faded but shines eternally in the galaxy of God’s presence. Natalie demonstrated everlasting faith and now she would know everlasting love,” said Bishop Kenneth C. Ulmer.
R&B legend Smokey Robinson, the first celebrant, spoke of “feeling blessed to call Cole “my friend, my buddy, and many times my confident.”
Robinson said he was sure Cole was with her father and he wanted her to “rest easy,” and “let Him love on you and then you can say this will be an everlasting love.”
Tammy, Cole’s sister-friend spoke of their meeting at Lamaze class and their friendship of 38 years. “The loss is overwhelming” Tammy said. “We were more than best friends. Natalie was my consistent glow.”
Cole’s business manager Howard Grossman said that Cole “was one of the most loyal people he ever worked with.”
“I truly lost a pal. I love and loved you so much and will miss you like crazy.”
“I just can’t express my sadness. It’s her friendship that I will miss the most,” said David Foster, music composer and producer. “She didn’t flaunt or abuse her fame. She didn’t give a crap about that.”
For attendee Stevie Wonder, the day was bittersweet. Wonder spoke of his late mother and shared that this day was her birthday and it gave him a sense of “joy knowing that Natalie was seeing his mother” in heaven. Wonder gave a soul-stirring harmonica and vocal performance of The Lord’s Prayer.
“We must continue the spirit and kindness that this woman gave the world. She left this country where people are divided. We speak of love but we don’t do love. We’ve got a lot of work to do. Natalie, we will do it in the spirit of you,” Wonder said.
Cole’s younger twin sisters, Timolin Cole Augustus and Casey Cole Hooker whom Cole affectionately referred to as “the twins” read a letter of condolescence from President Barack and Michelle Obama written to her son. Augustus said Cole, whom they lovingly called “Sweetie,” had a “genuine love for life.”
She closed her remarks quoting lyrics from Nature Boy by Nat King Cole; “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.”
Oscar and Grammy winner Lionel Ritchie also attended.
He spoke of the pressures and challenges of being in the entertainment business and how Cole had the extra pressure of being a member of a family who already had a superstar.
“That’s what made her prize of winning so wonderful because she won…she did it. She was not just the daughter of Nat King Cole, she was Natalie Cole, a superstar in her own right,” Ritchie said.
Ritchie said he would always “remember Natalie’s laughter, humor, that voice, her silliness, and most importantly, her friendship.”
Robert Adam Yancy, 38, Cole’s only child, also spoke.
“I was blessed to have a mom that just loved me,” Yancy said. “I cherish the fact that she taught me how to love,” he said.
“On Christmas Eve, my mom was in the hospital, we gathered around her, and we each gave an adjective to describe her. I described her as ‘my rock’…she has had my back…she’s given me a shoulder to cry on. But the greatest thing she gave me was Jesus. I may not have my rock now but I have the other rock; on Christ the solid rock I stand.” As Yancy was given a standing ovation, he closed with “Mom, I love you and I cannot wait to see you again.”
Dr. Melvin V. Wade, Cole’s Pastor also spoke, lauding Cole’s membership at Mt. Moriah Baptist Church.
“She was not just an attendee but a member,” Wade said. Wade asked Cole’s son to go to the drums where he accompanied Wade on a foot-stumping gospel song of old. Wade quoted 1 Thessalonians where God said we must give thanks in all things for this is the will of the Lord. “You may ask how can we give thanks against the backdrop of Natalie’s death, Wade asked?” “We can because of God and He said, in all things, we must give thanks.” “So we give thanks for Natalie” and as Dr. Wade pronounced the final blessing, he said that Cole had a final gift for us. The next sound was Natalie, her lush, melodious voice, singing Our Love…will stand as tall as the trees…our love will change people’s wrongs to right and we will never die ‘cos we’ll always have each other.
Following the service, Cole was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California next to her father – Nat King Cole, her mother Maria Cole.