Interview: Natalie Cole

Don't call her 'Queen' . . . yet

singer Natalie Cole, pointing her dinger and smiling, wearing a dress with a flower and butterfly pattern, circa 1975 Credit: Pictorial Parade/Archive Photos/Getty

Steve Martin, the comedian, has a routine in which he discusses his roots. "It wasn't always this easy for me," he begins. "I was actually born a poor black child…." He goes on to tell how, one day, he heard Lawrence Welk music on the radio, felt strongly that he had discovered real music, and decided to become a white person.

Natalie Cole has a similar story to tell. Only hers is true. She was born a rich white child. And she grew up in a big house in Hancock Park, near the Fairfax district of L.A., known to some as "the Jewish belt," and she liked white music–first, the kind her daddy, Nat "King" Cole sang, and then rock & roll, the kind she heard Janis Joplin perform at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco. Then one day, away from home and in college, she heard about blacks–black studies and Black Panthers–and decided to become one.

At the same time she began to take drugs of all colors. And she began to sing. At first, it was white music–after all, that's where her roots were–in white supper clubs. But in the recording studio, her singing took on black and gospel overtones. Instantly, she had a hit record, "This Will Be," and was on her way to fame and (if her accountants are any good) fortune.

In just two years she has had five hit singles, three gold albums, three Grammy awards and a Rock Award. At age 27, she is hot with a vengeance, and she's got Aretha Franklin, the "Queen of Soul," screaming scared. Natalie is not the "New Queen of Soul," and she sharply reprimanded the emcee who introduced her that way a couple years back at L.A.'s Coconut Grove, right–for Chrissakes–in Aretha's backyard. Nor is she Natalie "Queen" Cole, as she was advertised by one promoter trying to hustle her as some reincarnation of her father.

But try "Princess" on her and you get the raise of a brow, a tightening of the lips and a slight nod, as in contemplation of the possible. She may not want to be called "Queen," but only because she considers herself too young, because she is not out to piss off Aretha Franklin any more than she already has, and because she is repelled by attempts to sell her through her late father. But by no means does she shy from the thought of becoming the outright queen someday, or from the royal rewards that have come with her success. In fact, she recently bought a house, a wide-open ranch of a house in Benedict Canyon, in the mountains overlooking Beverly Hills.

Natalie has just finished doing her guest segment of a Paul Anka television special and is home to have some dinner with her manager, Kevin Hunter, and to meet with her costume designer to go over some new ideas. She is wearing a long, blue terry cloth robe with white trim. She is tall (about 5' 10" in her silver sandals) and rangy. She could pass for a Pointer Sister. She doesn't think herself particularly a looker; she even tried to get her nose fixed when she was a teenager because she thought it too broad and flat (and still thinks so; the surgeon, she says, turned out to be a fan of her father's and was reluctant to do much altering).

There is a resemblance, in fact, to Nat Cole, but not just because of the loyal surgeon. It is beyond the physical. It's the way Natalie conducts herself. Her walk is brisk, her manner cool and firm, and there is around her the air of business–good business. There is a detachment upon meeting a stranger, a healthy arm's-length distance that is later balanced by a natural candor, and an inability, or an innate unwillingness, to hide the darker elements of her story.

While Natalie fixes a simple meal, the talk in the kitchen is about how Kevin Hunter drove 90 miles from Toronto to Buffalo to see her at the Executive Inn in early 1973, how they resisted the easy, daughter-of-Nat-Cole route, how she bombed in Las Vegas last year with her energetic show. Natalie turns away from the sink. "See, Las Vegas has the type of audience–and they haven't changed since my father's days–they're still boring, and bored. And there's only that handful of artists that they really enjoy and know how to respond to."

Critics have compared her to Diana Ross–if only because Natalie, like Ross, recorded Billie Holiday's "Good Morning Heartache"–and to Aretha Franklin. Reviewers have pointed to Cole's reliance on numerous Franklin trademarks, the high, spirit-in-the-dark gospel wail, pointed enunciation of pointed, gritty lyrics.

The comparisons are all the more dramatic because Aretha is being characterized in the media as an aging Queen of Soul, in decline. It is an unfair characterization, and Aretha has not responded well to it. At Atlantic Records, it is said, she was jealous of Roberta Flack's success, and of the attention she was getting from Atlantic executives. Aretha's morale was kept up only by such token honors as Grammy Awards: she won for Best Female R&B Vocalist each year as if she owned the category. And then last year along came Natalie Cole.

***

Natalie's dinner is done. She says a silent grace, seasons her steak with Lawry's sauce, and begins to talk about Aretha and the others:

"They're always trying to compare me to somebody," she begins, "and I always turn around and get their ass, 'cause it's not fair to do that. But they have to have somebody to compare me to, so I guess they will. But I'm not doing it purposely.

"I've heard strains of Aretha, but I've never heard no Diana Ross. We don't sound anything alike. I think that I sound a lot better than Diana Ross." Slight smile. "You have to excuse my frankness, but I'm serious. There aren't too many artists that I would want to put myself up against, but I'll put myself up against Diana any day."

When Aretha comes up, she tries to be diplomatic, but it sounds like the time for diplomacy has long since passed. "We don't speak," she says. "Aretha Franklin does not like me."

When Cole first began singing, in the supper clubs back East, she sang a lot of Franklin's songs. "All her stuff. You name it, I did it. I love that lady. I love that lady. I had almost every album she made up until about three or four years ago. And then I started singing, and I didn't want to hear anybody else. I didn't want to hear Aretha because I felt that I would try to really sound like her. See, I never thought that I sounded like her until people started talking about it, after my first record came out."

Her demo tape, she says, had four songs on it: Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On," Laura Nyro's "Stoned Soul Picnic," the Stones' "Honky Tonk Women" and the Doris Day hit of the Fifties, "Que Sera, Sera," in which Cole adopted Sly Stone's stoned soul arrangement. "That," says Cole, "was my demo. I sure didn't sound like nobody's Aretha! Now I do, and that is because my producers wrote the music and it came out of me with real things to say, and I think that Aretha and I feel songs the same."

Cole leans forward at the table. "I sang at a banquet that was given in Aretha's honor at the Astoria in New York, and all we did was shake hands, and she said, 'I'm hearing a lot about you,' and I said, 'Really? You're one of my favorite, favorite people.' She sent me flowers when I opened up at different places, and then she called me one Christmas. She had done a thing at Carnegie Hall and she had done 'This Will Be.' And she called me up to wish me Merry Christmas and invite me out to lunch sometime and the next month … I don't know what happened, but someone told her I went around bragging about the fact that she had called me and that she must have been scared of me or something, trying to feel me out. Then I'm calling her, and she wasn't returning any of my calls and the next thing was the Grammys. I went up to her and she broke my face, I mean, she really hurt me. I said, 'How come you haven't called or anything?' and she said"–Cole's voice changes slightly, sounds suddenly a little weary–" 'How come I haven't called? Huh!'" and she humphed Natalie aside.

"And that night I'd won two Grammys and I was up there almost in tears. I felt so bad, I really wish I hadn't won. And that's awful. But no one is trying to take anything from her." (Franklin, asked for comment, declined an interview.)

Cole is actually prouder of her success than she sounds. She talked about her appearance on Frank Sinatra's special and how, at show's end, Sinatra told her she was a pro, a superstar, "and I thought that was really beautiful because he's seen 'em all. He don't have to say that; they didn't have to ask me on, they didn't have to put me in the same category as Aretha Franklin and Diana Ross, but they have. And if they're going to do that, then I'm gonna sure enough keep in that category if I can."

***

We are at the grand, new Hotel Bonaventure in downtown Los Angeles, where Natalie Cole is performing for charity–for NOW (that is, the Neighbors of Watts), a showbiz-connected organization that raises money to build and maintain children's centers in the ghetto. L.A.'s elite are here tonight, a thousand of them at $100 a head.

On our way to the Catalina Ballroom, I ask Kevin Hunter how far away Watts is from the Bonaventure. "About a million miles," he says. Following a grueling auction of chic items with minimum bids in the chic thousands of dollars–which deteriorated to a point where the auctioneer had to remind the elite that all purchases were tax deductible–dinner is served.

Mayor Tom Bradley and O.J. Simpson make the rounds, pump hands and pose for photos with TV stars Carroll O'Connor, Ed McMahon and Sally Struthers. Strange, in this entire crowd of 1000, there is not one recognizable music figure, not one of the friends Natalie says she has: Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, Marvin Gaye, Mavis Staples or Nancy Wilson, a holdover from Nat Cole's social circle.

After the show, Natalie's manager has no explanation, except that invitations may have gone out only to a circle of established supporters, most of them in television, film, sports and politics. And yet the draw (aside from charity and the tax deduction) is music. Ella and Sinatra in previous years; Natalie in '77. Natalie Cole's eight-piece ensemble crowds onto the small, poorly lit, makeshift Catalina Ballroom stage.

Behind them, what appears to be a large white sheet is draped over the rear wall, almost successfully covering up the blurry, Easter-egg-dye wallpaper design. In front are four monitor speakers, propped up against chairs set on the floor.

Cole steps out, in a simple, peach-colored, pleated-silk outfit, thigh-length top over slacks. She holds a white rose in one hand. Her eyes are shining as she dance-steps into "Party Lights." She lets the two keyboards, the congas and two backup singers drive the song; she's just along for the ride.

Then it's "Que Sera, Sera," surrealistic, almost, in the hands of a Sly Stone, but way overwrought gospel/dirge style, by Cole. She sails through "Sophisticated Lady," does a number called "No Plans for the Future," featuring her excellent music director, a regal-looking woman named Linda Williams, on piano. Cole slaps at "that women's liberation stuff" with "I'm Catching Hell," a basic I-was-wrong; come-back-baby torcher.

She allows herself to get a little screamish here, but, by and large, she seems conscious of the tight, if not sober, mood of this crowd. She has learned from Vegas, and this set will be more restrained than usual. She shifts into the hit ballad "Inseparable." She rolls into another easy-listener, "Mr. Melody," which she builds into an intense scat that tells exactly what she's learned from her dad's friend, Ella Fitzgerald. Cole lets out a moan that leads into "This Will Be."

The audience is polite–they've heard this song somewhere before, maybe from the kid's room, or at that disco–but they are not going nuts. Cole evokes her father with his "L-O-V-E" song, again scatting easily, her band–heavy on bass and percussion–rumbling under her, just right. She does her latest–"I've Got Love on My Mind"–and, in just less than an hour, she's off.

The applause is vigorous at first, but fades quickly. Almost half the crowd is standing, but many of them are simply already on their way out. The people do not appear to have seen a great show as much as to have… done their duty.

Up in the suite the hotel has given her as a dressing room, Natalie is with a few friends, and she looks sober, as if she's done something wrong. She has just had another taste of Vegas, right here in downtown Los Angeles.

***

In her new office in a tall building on upper Sunset on the afternoon before the show, Natalie is on the phone, directing someone on how to handle her income tax payments and personal finances.

"It's so funny," she says, "that this year I should be paying what to me is an incredible amount in taxes, when at one time I didn't even know what taxes were."

She looks like she belongs in this office, well-appointed in wood tones and rust colors. Natalie has just lost a secretary and is busy transferring names from fan letters onto index cards, then alphabetizing them into a file box. It is time, she says, to set up a Natalie Cole Fan Club. She likes the music biz. "I'm learning so much all the time. I've always been interested in the office. I was a secretary a long time ago and I've always been into paperwork. My first secretarial job was 1965 or 1966. My father had died recently [February 15, 1965, of cancer] and that's when I started working. A friend of my mom's owned a convalescent hospital and I was the receptionist/switchboard operator, and that was my favorite job."

At that time, she says, she had no ambitions in music. She was thinking of becoming either a psychologist or a psychiatrist. But she got sidetracked. She herself had been sent to a psychiatrist. She was at a private high school on the East Coast; a friend of hers was expelled, and Natalie went through what she now calls "a nervous breakdown. And then, after my father died, I went through an incident, and my mother sent me to a psychologist."

She would rather save the details for a book, she says coyly. "But it was something wrong–it was illegal at the time–it still is. I just wanted to see if I could get away with it. It was traumatic for my mom. It embarrassed her, and so she said, 'Go see a doctor.' He just told her I was normal. I was going through a typical effect of my father having just died."

Nat "King" Cole, the Thirties jazz pianist who became a crooner in the Forties and a pop star in the Fifties, had a silky, calming voice. He was, as Natalie herself says, "a gentleman and a gentle man." Somehow, his death had a liberating effect on her.

She did what she called "dumb" things and got sent to a shrink. She got a job. And she slid over from pop to rock. On vacations from school, she would wander up to San Francisco, where she had a girlfriend. "She was a real hippie in her day," Cole remembers, "and I was hippin' right along with her. She's the one that took me to see Janis, and we went to the Fillmore as much as we could."

In the mid-Sixties at the Fillmore, young white people, their ears recently opened by the Beatles, Dylan and drugs, were being introduced to black, rock-foundation artists such as Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and Chuck Berry. Natalie Cole missed them all. "I wasn't into that," she says. "I never saw Chuck Berry, can you imagine? I never saw that as much as I saw rock. It was all rock."

And it was all music. She did not bum around in the Haight-Ashbury–"I just passed on through"–and never gave drugs, or crashing at pads, much of a thought. "I mean, we had to be home at a certain hour. I was very naive still, at 18. I smoked my first joint when I was 18, so I was a very late bloomer in almost everything. I was in my last year of high school when I had my first hit of pot. And I didn't even get introduced to really heavy stuff until college."

"The heavy stuff," as things turned out, would be sexual freedom, drugs beyond pot, music beyond rock, and the discovery that she was black.

***

I enjoy my blackness," Cole is saying. "We have fun. And I have had white friends who wish that they could be black, but I have not known too many black people that want to be white." Why, I ask, do whites want to be black? "Well, they want to know how to dance." It is probably the truth, and we laugh. "They wanted to be able to dance like us, they wanted to be even able to dress like us."

As a kid in Hancock Park, most of Cole's friends were white, the children of wealthy families with supermarket names like Adohr (milk) and Van de Kamp (bakery goods). At age 12, she joined a black girls' social club, the Holiday Club. So, she says, "I was getting a little more black." But the Holiday Club was an incidental experience. Natalie then went to college at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. Of 22,000 students there, only 200 were back. Natalie was surprised by the statistic. There were so many blacks, she thought.

"I didn't know that many black people were around," she says. "I really didn't know what it was like to be black. I didn't know anything about the Black Panthers or Angela Davis." "I met different kinds of black people … I went to ghettos, I had friends who lived in ghettos and tenements. My life became richer because of it." But Cole had a slow start. Many of the blacks knew of her family background. "My first year," she said, "was kind of miserable. The black community did not accept me right away. They had an assumption and a story on me already that I was a snob–a little rich bitch. I had to kind of prove myself."

The turning point, she says, may have been her participation, freshman year, in a march and demonstration for a black studies program. "I was in the first line of the demonstration and I think that's what started the wheels turning. And then I didn't hang out with a lot of white people after … I hung out with mostly blacks after that."

Natalie resisted joining an Afro-American society–she just wasn't a joiner, she says–and felt that the Panthers, and Angela Davis, "overdid themselves." But, she figures, it was "because they were scared. And a prime example is Martin Luther King. I mean, he did so much, and someone still found the need to kill the man…. I feel that people get scared when black people stand up and start talking about Black Power. But when Charles Manson makes people do crazy things, and he is still alive today, that is an injustice to me."

Cole thinks of herself as a liberal who was curious about the black community and its struggles. "I didn't want to get in no revolution, but I wanted to know. I felt that I had an obligation…so I had to either be accepted or go over to the other side." And how was it to become an inspected and approved black? "I was relieved. I said, 'Wow, I'm black! At last!'"

***

After another year at U Mass., Cole returned to L.A. to spend her junior year at USC–she had wanted to do her graduate work there, she thought, but was disappointed after one year.

"There were no politics going on at all, and yet it was very subtle politically," she says. "Because it was the same situation–not very many blacks. Most of the blacks there were on athletic scholarships. And I felt kind of out of it." She headed back East for the summer, "and that's when I started singing."

But something else had taken hold of Cole by now. I had heard that she once lived in an apartment in Hollywood and was heavily into acid. I ask her about that, and she appears puzzled–but only momentarily. "Oh, was I into acid out here?" she asks from behind her desk. "No, I was into mescaline. When I was living back East I was into acid." Cool as can be. "The mescaline was between junior year out here and senior year back at U Mass. And I was going with a white guy, and we were always taking mescaline. "But I was having fun. It wasn't a serious thing. It got serious when I graduated college. There were two years of my life that I'll have to write a book about."

Back in Massachusetts, waiting for the school year to begin, Cole ran into a black friend who was in an otherwise all-white group called Black Magic. Her friend had contracted strep throat and asked if Cole might want to jam with the group.

She did, and while applying for a waitress job nearby, was offered a chance to sing on weekends. Cole and Black Magic began to do business. Still, she wasn't thinking about a career. "Probably the least ambitious of musicians on that stage was myself," she says. "It was just a hobby to me."

But the man at the restaurant had been interested in hiring her because of her name. He even went so far as to advertise Black Magic with a sign reading: Nat "King" Cole's Daughter Appearing Here.

After graduation, Cole, not interested in going to school anymore, went on her own, got an agent and found plentiful work–but too often for the wrong reasons. As she put it: "I came in at the middle instead of the bottom" because of her name, and she seriously considered changing it "to Lee. Lee anything. Garfunkel. Something that no one recognized, and see how far I got." A rueful split second later: "I probably wouldn't have gotten as far as anything. That's probably why I never did it."

People in audiences asked her to sing her dad's songs; she refused. "I had to be myself," she explained, "singing my songs in my own way"–with the exceptions of "Mona Lisa," which she often found too difficult to sing, because of the emotional response it would get; "Nature Boy," which replaced "Mona Lisa" in her repertoire, and the lighter "L-O-V-E." And she tired of people babbling on about Nat Cole and "how he was SO wonderful and da da da!

Being a child of a celebrity, she says, "is really a hard road to go." It is what, in retrospect, sent Cole toward what she calls "the heavy stuff." "I had done all this singing and I was still doing what I didn't really want to do, and I was in a state of dis-orientation. I really didn't know who Natalie Cole was anymore. I was getting ready to say to hell with all this…."

She was living in Springfield, Massachusetts. "I was just out there, let me tell you. I really was. I had a lot of friends who were dope dealers, pimps and, you know … there's a lot more to it than sex and drugs. There's hanging out with gangsters. Any kind of gangs, honey, you name it. They came through the town, which was almost like a drop-off point for a lot of dope and everything. Cole would not say whether she ever used heroin. "I've been around it quite a lot; I've had friends who've died from it," was all she would say.

But earlier she summarized those two years in Springfield in drug terms: "That's the way my life went–from a misdemeanor to a felony." Music, at this point, "was doing zilch," she says. Kevin Hunter, an agent from Montreal, had seen her, thought "she had the pipes" and began "pitching, very softly" to be her manager. "It was really a question of which way she was going to go," says Hunter. "Whether she really wanted to do her own musical thing or… the other options she had was going with some of the older managers who would have been happy to have her be another Liza Minnelli.

"We agreed instantly as to what direction she would go in. As a matter of fact, the places that she was playing in the beginning [mostly posh hotel rooms in New York and resorts in the Bahamas] stopped wanting to bring her back as the music got heavier. "I felt she was being pulled by her roots. You had the pull of what she was into musically–Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Stones, Sly, Stevie and all that. But her family musical roots were jazz and soft pop ballads." After signing with Hunter, Cole did her demo–but, as she says, "I was at the point where I was really ready to give up singing. I was getting tired of doing other people's songs."

"Yet," says Hunter, "for her, the evolution was fantastic. It was creating a musical personality that evolved into what she is today. It was a very natural growth, to the point where she met her producers [a year later, in October 1974]." Chuck Jackson (not to be confused with the singer) and Marvin Yancy were producers in Chicago; they are best known for their work with the Independents. Jackson and Yancy had met Cole in New York, and had a tentative audition one day. Very tentative, in fact: she was late for the first appointment, and they didn't show up at all.

"They were acting like they weren't interested–'Who's this girl, Natalie Cole? Never heard of her.' And the next day they did show up and they walked in with the kind of attitude, 'Oh, this isn't gonna be nothing,' and neither of us had any music with us, so Marvin just sat down at the piano and started playing something and told me to sing–and Chuck would give me some lyrics and I'd sing it–and Marvin and I just went to another zone completely. As soon as he started playing I was into it–I fell in love with the way he played that piano the first day, and something just happened to me. And he was like challenging me with the chords and I was right behind him. It was immediate."

The two men then saw her at Mister Kelly's in Chicago. Because of a problem getting music charts together, she reverted to some standards, such as "On a Clear Day" and "Mona Lisa," which she had eased out of her set. "They loved it. That's what made them write stuff like 'Inseparable,' when they heard me do 'Mona Lisa.'

"Beyond cliché ballads like "Inseparable," however, "I found a category that I had never done before. They just saw something in me that made them start writing differently. When they sang 'This Will Be' to me I told them they were crazy. I said I'd never do that. This R&B stuff was new to me, honey!"

Now, Cole is content–she methodically defines her music as "a level of sophistication, with an undercurrent of funk"–and she has found, through Yancy, personal contentment as well. She has found the heavy stuff. However happy she was with the music in the studio, "my life at that point, mentally I was depressed. I wasn't really taking care of myself."

Her manager had encouraged and helped her to move from Springfield to New York. Now, Yancy invited Cole to visit his church in Chicago. "That's when I found out he was a Baptist minister. I didn't know he was a minister when I first met him. That completely blew my mind, when I walked into church and he was up there preaching, in his robes, and he was a completely different person and I was really impressed, and I was also listening to what he said because at that time I had no particular feeling for him, so I was able to get into the message, and that led me to be baptized.

"When I went into that church, it was like the Lord saying to me, 'There's something for you to do. And this is just going to be the beginning, if you will accept me in your life, and just let me control it.' When you're in control of your own life, things get messed up. I learned right then how to start living day to day, how to forget about planning so far ahead and just making the most of it every day. And that's what started me on the road, and that's what happened to me in the studio, 'cause we went in to record, and we were hot."

They decided to stick together as a team as part of any recording deal they might make; because of that demand, and, according to Kevin Hunter, because many labels weren't interested in another female R&B singer, some ten labels, including Columbia, Arista, RCA and Private Stock, passed on Natalie Cole. They didn't want Warner Bros, (not enough marketing success with soul music); Motown (too much soul music there already); Atlantic (home of Aretha Franklin).

"And we ended up–Capitol took the shot," says Cole. "I think it's really ironic that it should turn out to be Capitol Records, I tell you." Capitol, after all, was Nat "King" Cole's label, and Natalie wanted to avoid any hint of the company taking her on because her father had sold 50 million records there. "Capitol was the last label we approached," says Hunter. "The last."

While in Chicago to attend Yancy's church, Natalie was also reunited with cousin Janice Williams, 40, whom she had talked with only once, briefly, in 14 years. Williams was a featured soloist and organist at the Third Baptist Church in Chicago–and worked as a taxicab dispatcher in Chicago for 14 years, 12 hours a day ("The hours fitted in with my church thing"). Now she is Cole's "spiritual adviser."

"She just keeps me together. She's like a traveling companion," says Natalie. "She's very old-fashioned and I think that's what really has helped, that her old-fashionedness has kept me from doing a lot of things that I might have done. She believes in roots, that everyone should have roots, and her roots are the Bible."

Williams doesn't know why she's considered a spiritual adviser. "Sometimes, on the road, the pressure is on her head and rather than let her get angry, I'm there–I kinda give her the eye and cool her out," she says. Mostly, Williams offers advice based on her own experiences, "miracles I have had happen to my life," messages from God–in short, dispatches from the Head Hack.

One piece of advice Williams gave was for Natalie to marry Marvin Yancy, which she did last fall, shortly after splitting from a musician to whom she was engaged.

Now, Natalie is pregnant and will wind down her work schedule in anticipation of a fall delivery.

***

Cole is a full-circle woman. It may have taken some time, but she is back to blackness, church and the family way. She is home and free at last. Behind her desk at her Sunset Boulevard office, she maintains that she is not bored with all this mellowness, and she laughs at her admission that she is a "square" today, and at the thought of her hippie girlfriend in San Francisco.

"She's superstraight now," she says. "I can't believe it. She works as a secretary for her father, who owns a buffalo ranch." Cole thinks about her friends and her times back East, how she left depressed, dazed and half-crazed, and how she must be shocking them now with her "Sophisticated Lady" routine on TV with Sinatra, Anka, and on all the talk-show couches.

But this is the real Natalie Cole–for today, anyway. She is a woman who seems to have been led by impulses and accident. That's how she got into music, into drugs, into church, into love and, eventually, into quick success. It is too early to tell where she is headed next, and whether she'll indeed be the "New Queen of Soul."

Of course, she hasn't done too badly in two years. Especially for someone born rich and white. But to hear Natalie Cole talk, it hasn't been no overnight trip to the top. She's not exactly singing the blues, but oh, Lawd, has she paid her dues.

Or, as she puts it: "I'm really glad I haven't done anything really bad to anybody but myself. Now I feel like there's nothing that I have that I don't deserve. I used to feel guilty when I started becoming successful. I said, 'Why is this happening to me? I really don't deserve it.' But then I had to say to myself, 'Hell, yes I do.' I haven't been out there all these years eating strawberries and cream."