By Debra Wallace
Natalie Cole has overcome insurmountable obstacles in her life, including dire medical problems, and is still going strong with her music and other creative outlets.
She is best known for emerging from the shadow of her father, the music legend, Nat King Cole, who died of lung cancer when she was 15 years old. She grew up in a heavily musical atmosphere in L.A.’s Hancock Park, and considered Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra like family. Her many songs, so many beloved ballads among them, have gone gold and platinum.
Currently, Cole, 62, is teaming up with a friend, Sonia Nassery Cole (no relation), to talk about the new movie Black Tulip. Natalie Cole contributed two new songs to the film:
Forever One Love, and Freedom Song, both of which were contenders for best original song at the Oscars.
Set in 2001 in Kabul, Afghanistan, Black Tulip focuses on the Mansouri family, led by a fierce matriarch named Farishta, played by Sonia Nassery Cole.
In this political drama and international thriller, Farishta and her husband, Hadar, are embarking on a new life by opening a restaurant with an open microphone for artists to express themselves called The Poet’s Corner. The hope is that the Poet’s Corner will be a place of warmth and shared ideas in their neighborhood – a place for friendship and openness. A sign above the tables proclaims the motto: “Where All Voices are Made Free.”
While this family, and their beloved staff works hard over the course of a decade to find a new beginning, the Taliban’s influence returns – hidden, deadly and punishing those who defy it. At this Poet’s Corner, the dreams of the family and the nation are on the front line.
The movie Black Tulip from SnagFilms, which opened recently and is available on video on demand, asks several questions: How do people’s dreams blossom under oppression? What do we do when reality threatens to trample hope? And does passion – for family, work and community – provide the strength we need to overcome the deadliest of adversaries? With all of the adversity Natalie Cole has overcome, this movie seems extremely fitting for her to want to spread the word about.
Q: Are you making music right now?
NATALIE COLE: Absolutely.
Q: Before we talk about the movie tell me what’s up with your music and your health?
NC: I’ve got a Latin project coming out next year. It is an international record. And it’s going to be very interesting.
Q: Please tell me more.
NC: Well, I haven’t even started it yet. But we’ve picked out all the music. So it’s very much like Unforgettable. Which, was the American songbook, basically. And this will be the Latin songbook. Like, so many Spanish melodies that you’ve heard, but never knew the Spanish? You can just hum right along! So it’s going to be a lot of fun. And we’re looking forward to it.
Q: How are you doing with your health problems right now?
NC: Well, thank goodness I didn’t have to do a liver transplant. But my health issues were so extraordinary. First, it was Hep C, and my liver. Which thank goodness; I was able to recover from.
Q: But it didn’t end there?
NC: No, somehow, my kidneys were impacted. And then I had a lung issue. So I had liver, kidney and lung problems, can you imagine?
NC: I could never comprehend that this could happen to me at this time in my life. I’ve been healthy all my life. And so it’s really a miracle that I’m sitting here! But I’m feeling fantastic. Which is such a blessing, you know?
Q: And you’re still singing, even after your lung problems?
NC: Yeah! And I asked my doctor, how is it that I can still sing? And he said, ‘I don’t know. You just have a gift!’
Q: But what kept you from being overwhelmed and perhaps thinking of giving up your career. I’m sure you know that so many people become despondent during adversity?
NC: Well, I think that attitude, really, is everything. You know, if you can get through it – fake it till you make it!
Q: What’s your advice for others trying to overcome adversity?
NC: Um, you can do two things. You can either be bitter. Or you can get better. And bitter is usually the end. It’s easy to complain. So my attitude is, ‘what do I have to complain about, you know?’ I’m still so blessed, and I’m very grateful. And your attitude is really everything. You have to laugh through almost everything. I thought I would be crying every day. Right? Ha! And what else is worth fighting for, other than your life. Yeah. And quality of life. Like in this movie The Black Tulip.
Q: Speaking of which, why did you become involved in a movie like The Black Tulip about Afghanistan, and why are you passionate about that topic?
NC: Well to be quite blunt, I think as an American, we’re pretty clueless. And about a lot of international events, period! But especially about the plight that continues to go on in Afghanistan. And as someone who travels a lot outside of the United States, and watching CNN International, it’s very different. You know, from watching CNN in this country.
Q: In what way?
NC: There are subjects that are covered in detail. And there are subjects that are covered period – that are not even covered in the US. And it’s a little more graphic. And there’s just more information. And I find that most of the people outside of the US – Asians, Europeans, Middle East – that they’re just more informed.
Q: What is your hope for this movie Black Tulip?
NC: Good question. That the Black Tulip may opens people’s eyes, as to how other people are living. And the regime under which they are living. The current regime there, is in the daily personal lives of these people. They can’t, hardly go to the bathroom without the Taliban looking over them. And again, this is something that Americans are not used to, really. And I don’t understand that mentality. But nobody really wants to talk about things like that.
Q: Why do you think that’s true?
NC: Because we live in a dream world. Americans live in a very safe, secure place. And everything is filtered. And when you hear things like the government isn’t telling you everything, there’s really no reason for that. Because we’re living in a society now, the 21st century, where we need to know everything. So if you don’t find it out from your own government, you’ll find it out from somebody else’s! So I just think, that opened up a whole new world to me that I had no clue about. And I think one of the things that is very difficult for Americans to acknowledge, and even hear, was that we were not liked [by other nations] You know, America is the golden child, and has been for…forever
Q: We talked about the different standards for women around the world. Tell me about in your own life, as a woman?
NC: In my own life, the way I was raised, I couldn’t even wear pants until I was like 18 years old. My mother was very strict. And I didn’t understand. And I kind of resented it, and everything. But now I’m so glad. I’m a lady! I’m considered a lady. I’ve had some bad relationships, sure. Ha! But the kind of disrespect that I have seen some women endure is just something that, it’s a terrible thing. And women without that self-respect, they do get into – and myself included! They get into relationships that are abusive. Whether it’s physical or verbal.
Q: Are you still touring with your music?
NC: Absolutely. As long as you love it. And I do. You know what? You keep going, until you can’t go any more!
Q: I must tell you that Unforgettable was the song my husband and I danced to at my wedding 20 years ago. So that song and your music has a very special place in my heart.
NC: Are you still married?
Q: I am a recent widow. But he is smiling down on us today and humming along to Unforgettable.
NC: Thank you for sharing that with me.