Shelby Lum / Lantern photographer
As a touring artist, typically musicians sing solely their own songs, maybe with a cover or two thrown in. Natalie Cole is an exception to that rule. Her home as a child undoubtedly held musical legends far past her father Nat “King” Cole, and her performance reflected that upbringing.
Natalie Cole performed at Mershon Auditorium on Friday, brought by the Wexner Center for the Arts. As she gracefully walked around the stage in an orange evening gown, I couldn’t help but notice the poise she held. Her childhood could never be described as typical, and she essentially grew up under spotlights. Nine Grammys later, and she knows how to handle herself.
Rather than taking the role of a big-headed star, Natalie Cole treated the crowd at Mershon with friendly banter. It was more of a dialogue between her and the crowd, and at times I forgot that I was sitting among 2,000 people. She was intimate and personal, and told stories of her life and then wove them into her songs – even songs that weren’t originally hers.
Friday’s show opened with “Stardust,” originally by Hoagy Carmichael, later covered by stars from Frank Sinatra to Natalie Cole’s father.
Before she began “The Best Is Yet To Come,” originally by Frank Sinatra, she talked about her childhood.
“Growing up in my household was very interesting,” she said. As the crowd chuckled at her statement, realizing she was talking about her father, who has been marked as one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time and her mother, who sang with Duke Ellington and Count Bassie, she said, “I was clueless. I had no idea.” To her, they were just friends of her parents, she said.
Her performance included her own “All About Love,” Nat King Cole Trio’s “Route 66,” during which she introduced her seven-piece band, Michael Franks’ “Tell Me All About It” and her father’s “Smile.”
Most of her songs began with an anecdote about her life or about the song, and as she introduced “Our Love is Here to Stay,” written by George and Ira Gershwin, she said they just don’t write songs like this anymore. That statement really summed up the night. They really don’t make songs like that anymore, and her choice to sing classic songs, ones that weren’t all hers was a well-thought-out decision.
The night hit its peak when a screen dropped down over the stage, and Natalie Cole stepped to the side as a video of Nat “King” Cole singing “Unforgettable” began to play. She sang the duet with her father, directing herself toward the screen as she warbled out the truly unforgettable lyrics.
She closed her set with a tribute to musicians who she said she missed, and the last song included parts of “A House Is Not A Home,” originally sang by Dionne Warwick, “She Works Hard For The Money” by Donna Summer, “At Last” made most famous by Etta James, “I have Nothing” by Whitney Houston and “I’m Every Woman” by Chaka Khan.
Yet even as she walked off the stage, with her gown billowing behind her, I knew her set could not be over. “This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)” had yet to be sung, and as the crowd rose to their feet, Natalie Cole made her way back onto the stage to sing arguably her most famous song, and close the night.