Natalie Cole’s first trip outside the USA was to Mexico, with her father, when she was 8 years old. At that time, Nat King Cole was promoting his first Spanish-language album, 1958’s “Cole Espanol.” It was an enormous success throughout Latin America, spawning two follow-up recordings — and now, 55 years later, his daughter’s “Natalie Cole en Espanol, out June 25.
Cole, 63, says her debut collection of songs in Spanish is a project that “had been germinating f”or years and years. I took Spanish when I was in high school. I love Mexican food.” And memories of her dad (“the first entertainer of his stature, of any race, to go to so many Latin countries,” she notes proudly) remained a “great influence.”
Fate intervened to push Cole’s own outing along a few years ago, when she needed a kidney transplant. A woman from El Salvador worked as a nurse at a hospital where Cole was briefly treated, and later saw the singer discuss her health problems on “Larry King Live.” As it happened, the woman’s niece suffered a fatal stroke at age 30, while eight months pregnant.
“She was an organ donor, and the nurse went to her family and said, ‘I know someone who needs a kidney.’“ The donor’s baby “was born healthy and is well,” Cole reports happily, while her own life was saved “by this beautiful, sweet Latino family.”
Cole delved into her father’s recordings in Spanish with renewed relish, recruiting the renowned Cuban-American producer Rudy Perez to helm a collection of romantic classics covered by her father, along with some personal favorites. On “Bachata Rosa,” the first single, she is joined by the Dominican icon Juan Luis Guerra, who had an enormous hit with the song in the early 1990s.
But the track likely to garner the most attention goes back further: “Acercate Mas” is presented as a duet with Cole’s late father, using the same recording technique she popularized more than 20 years ago on “Unforgettable.” “It’s one of my favorite songs that he did,” Cole says.
She may be covering others in the future, as Cole is “already thinking about” putting together another Spanish-language effort. “I never imagined how deeply I would immerse myself in this culture. Everyone around me (in the studio) had a Latin heritage, and I grew to love these people so much.”
Cole admits that she’s “not a fluent conversationalist in Spanish. But my dad wasn’t either. ... The melodies of these songs, you know you’ve heard them somewhere before. Even if you don’t speak the language, you can sing them right away. And they’re wonderful.”
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