Natalie Cole wowed the audience Thursday night with her sultry, smoky-throated R&B and jazz at the Music Center at Strathmore, delivering a powerhouse performance that showed the dynamic voracity of her vocal range. Co-presented with Blues Alley, the nine-time Grammy Award winner took the stage accompanied by a live band complete with keyboardists, two percussionists, feisty back-up singers, a guitarist, and a bass player. The performance – which made use of both live instrumentation accompanied by pre-recorded tracks of her father – the late Nat “King” Cole – effortlessly melded familiar melodies from the 1980s with standards from the classic American Songbook from as early as the 1930s.
The concert was a definite crowd-pleaser, entertaining the many generations in the crowd without missing a decade. As a millennial, I found the tribute finale that Cole presented to be particularly touching, which included covers of Etta James’ “At Last,” Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman,” and Dionne Warwick’s “A House Is Not A Home.” The most memorable song for me was definitely her rendition of Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing” – which left me clapping on my feet and wanting more. Although Cole is known for her intimate, smooth R&B vocals, the tribute demonstrated that Cole can still belt it out and command a stage as the nine-time Grammy Award-winning icon that she is.
Cole – who sold more than 30 million records worldwide – is the daughter of the legendary Nat “King” Cole. Cole is well known for her debut 1975 album Inseparable, for which she won two Grammy Awards including Best New Artist and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. Cole’s performance of “Inseparable” immediately brought the audience to cheers as the older members of the audience reminisced in a song almost four decades old, but one that is still poignant and relatable as ever. Cole also performed “Unforgettable” from her album Unforgettable… With Love, which won six Grammy Awards including Album of the Year. Her touching performance of “Unforgettable” included a duet via recorded video and audio with her late father Nat “King” Cole.
Although I was not intimately familiar with Cole’s vast repertoire prior to attending this concert, the breadth and depth of her body of work is truly remarkable, and I found myself tapping to many of the songs that had recognizable lyrics and melodies. I found myself singing along to the lyrics of “This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)” – which I learned was Cole’s 1975 debut single and is still widely known. Even for the songs that I had never heard before, her charismatic stage presence, and the enthusiastic audience interaction made the evening an incredible opportunity to appreciate the artistry of a musical icon.
Billed appropriately as a “spectacular singer, songwriter and performer” delivering a night of “vibrant and romantic” performances, Cole also performed selections from her new CD, Natalie Cole En Español. In fact, these selections were favorites for me although I could hardly understand the lyrics at all, demonstrating the power of music as a universal language that can transcend cultural barriers.
As a child of the nineties with little background in the music of the seventies and eighties, I can safely say that the concert made me a Natalie Cole fan; I’m sure I’ll be downloading her music in the days to come and bopping to some of the classics from the American songbook after her stellar performance at Strathmore!
Running time: One hour and 20 minutes, with no intermission.
Natalie Cole played for one night only on August 1, 2013 at the Music Center at Strathmore – 5301 Tuckerman Lane, in North Bethesda, MD. For future Strathmore performances and information, check their calendar of events.