Catching Hell, Grieving the Loss of Natalie Cole

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Joey, where are you going
Where will you sleep tonight
Will you be alright?

Some people can tell you exactly where they were when certain artist have died;  Lennon, Elvis, Tupac, Michael, Teena.

I will always remember that I was in a department store when I saw the Facebook post from my friend Jerome Noble that Natalie Cole died.  When I saw the post, I took it like I have taken many tragedies initially in my life; I went into a robotic mode mentally, and shut down mode internally as a coping mechanism. I pushed away that thought that such an important figure in my life was suddenly gone and went on about my day.  I understood that as time went on I would have to grapple with it.  This is a way of attempting to start the process of doing that.

My entire life story can be described with the music I have grown up with. There are certain artist that helped shape particular aspects of my way of looking at things.  Natalie Cole was pivotal in shaping my views and perspectives on love, communication, intimacy and vulnerability.  This was before I had a single girlfriend.  Her  words and expression were what I imagined love should be.  And thus what I wanted.  Her voice alone is right up there with Aretha’s.  But if I could compartmentalize, Aretha was like that chick you heard about.  She was/is a legend that everyone knows and yet you were lucky to see live if given the chance.  Aretha is a legend.  For me, Natalie Cole, no less legendary in stature was still that chick you knew from around the way.  She lived in my neighborhood.  My family went to her house for back yard cookouts.  Through her music I felt as if I knew her personally.  Even as a child her deep and thoughtful lyrics were totally relatable.  That is amazing to me when you consider that this is a woman who grew up in a home where on any given day Sinatra, Davis Jr. Ellington, Fitzgerald, and Basie would be just hanging out with her parents.

Getting to the music, I would be remiss to not mention the brains behind the lyrics and music that Natalie gave life to.  Chuck Jackson and (former husband) Marvin Yancy were a dynamic team that brought out Natalie’s own signature style. The game changers for me were two LPs released both released in 1977, “Unpredictable,” and “Thankful.”  I listened to the former time and time again via 8 Track living in South Bend, Indiana.  My mother played it every weekend when we were doing the detailed cleaning in the house.  While the radio played hits like, “I’ve Got Love On My Mind,” I was blessed to hear the rest of the songs like, “Still In Love,” featuring a soft melodic guitar not at all common in R&B music.  Then there was “Peaceful Living,” which compared the inner workings of a loving relationship to living in a land of paradise.  “Your Eyes,” is a beautiful compliment to a man who eyes she finds so captivating, not recognizing that the man was also blind.

And here we are in utopia where the sun never seems to go away
And the moon is our friend, hmm
Looking out on a starry night and the sky is like a slate for writing on
But you don’t need a pin, you don’t need a pin
Precious one, you’re a joy to me
And I know that there’s no place else I’d rather be
Peaceful living is here

The most impactful hit on, “Unpredictable,” was “I’m Catching Hell.”  This was an anthem in which the likes of Mary J. Blige would go on to follow in the footsteps in.  Here she opens with a monologue talking to women, encouraging them not to make mountains out of mole hills when it comes to small conflicts in their relationships.  The message is simply, “If you got a good man, you’d better keep him!”  She addresses the potential resistance to her message by acknowledging that she isn’t privy to each and every situation.  But if its not a deal breaker, stick to it.  From there she sings her ass off to her man acknowledging that devastating results of her rash emotionalism leading her to put a period where a comma should have been.

If I could replay, if I could replay ,that whole scene again, oh well
You know that I would never, never say it again, that our love, our love is at its end
And oh, you know that I would kind of ease on back, yes I would
And let confusion pass on by, I took a fools’way out, oh yeah
Without one good reason why

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“Thankful,” was introduced to me in the outer suburbs of Pittsburgh, PA from my grandfather whom I visited most summers as a youth.  He had the cassette tape and played it when we rode in his 1978 creme colored fully loaded Lincoln Continental Town Car.   That car was an immaculate beast!  Whether it was around town or on road trips to Meridian, Mississippi where he was born, like “Unpredictable,” I listened intently and learned every word to every song.  “Thankful,” is nothing like “Unpredictable.”  To this day I am still amazed that she released two totally different iconic albums in one year.  Who ever does that?

You’re my morning star shining brightly beside me
And if we keep this love
We will last through all eternity

Again doing what normal R&B divas didn’t, she jazzed it up from the start with the up tempo swinging, “Lovers.”  Without pause she soon gives us a calypso ladened and poetic La Costa.  “Nothing Is Stronger Than Love,” is sang like a cross between a church service and the signature song in a Broadway play.  “Annie Mae,” is a powerful tribute to the young girls struggling with life on the streets.  Both of these albums played like an opera for me, each song a scene in the lives of my mother and other adults I looked up to; waiting to play my own part in my own life as an adult.

When I became an adult and no longer had access to my favorite Natalie Cole works, and with the release of CDs I looked for years with great displeasure learning that every piece of work she had up to that point were not released.  For some reason Capitol Records was holding out.  Eventually I found the single LaCosta on a Capitol compilation.  Then eventually I purchased both Thankful and Unpredictable three years apart from Japan.  (Thank you Ebay) Thankfully with the internet and some streaming services these songs are easily accessible.

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I find it ironic that I was recently watching an old episode of Grey’s Anatomy and noticed Natalie was playing a heart patient with little chance of living long into the future.  I am so disappointed that I never saw her perform live.

Natalie reinvented herself plenty of times.  From R&B to pop, then following in her father’s footsteps in recreating his works in Unforgettable.  Unforgettable is so amazing because she not only does the standards her father mastered, she managed to still make them totally her own.  She went on to do several classical jazz standards and her voice was always astute for the occasion.  I love those works, but it was those two 1977 releases that changed my life.  Listening to those jams last night my mood started to lighten a bit.  Instead of falling into despair, I will simply say, “Thank You for blessing me with your gifts, that voice, that heart.  You may be gone but your music will last forever in the playlist of my heart.  It would be selfish for me to ask you to stay forever.  You are allowed to take your rest for a job well done.”

When the snow falls on the Sahara, ‘And the sun freezes over,
When the Mojave red turns into blue.
When the music’s no longer playing and the faithless start praying,
I’ll stop loving you.

Your #1 Fan

 

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Lyrics In My Ear – Annie Mae

For a while I’ve wanted to add an addition to the blog that involves music and in particular lyrics.  Music is such a big part of my life and sometimes I may listen to a song and for whatever reason the lyrics just stand out a little more.   Sometimes it’s personal, and at other times I just hear them in a new way.  Well I appreciate art and one thing about the art of music, is that there is a song for every feeling, thought and emotion.  So here is what was ‘in my ear’ the other day.  Natalie Cole’s Annie Mae from 1977’s album “Thankful.”

Thankful

Growing up wasn’t easy for Annie Mae
A little girl in a great big world
Annie Mae
No one knew about her past
Some people swore she’d never last
She was (growing up much too fast)
Growing
Just a little too fast
Never had her a Mama, no, no
Annie Mae
Rarely heard a kind spoken word
Annie Mae

Looking at life through an empty shell
And all the time she’s catching hell
She was growing up much too fast
Does anybody know where is Annie Mae today
Where oh where is Annie Mae
All you got to do is look into the faces of
All the young girls
On the avenue

In the night hear her cry, Annie Mae
Hurt and pain keeps coming again
And again, and again, Annie Mae
Trippin’ and runnin’ is blowin’ her mind
Tryin’ to decide if she’ll make it this time
She was (growing up) oh, yeah (much too fast)
She was (growing up much too fast)
Somebody got to stop her, oh Annie, Annie
(where is Annie Mae)
Annie, Annie
Somebody got to stop her, oh, Annie, Annie,
Annie, Annie
She’s runnin’, she’s runnin’
Growin’ up too fast, oh, oh
(She’s running’) oh, oh
Growin’ up too fast, oh, oh
(She’s runnin’) oh, oh
Growin’ up too fast, oh, hey Annie,

Annie Mae, yeah
(She’s running) Where you goin’ Annie
(She’s runnin’) Don’t you think somebody ought to stop you
(She’s runnin’) Somebody aught to stop you
(She’s runnin’) Don’t you think I’m gonna try to stop you

Natalie Cole Get’s Support for Transplant

Saw Natalie Cole the other evening on The Larry King Show.  A lengendary singer, songwriter, performer and daughter of the late Nat King Cole revealed that she needed a kidney and dozens of fans called the show to offer theirs.

Cole, a former cocaine and heroine addict took full responsibility for her health issues and was gracious and real in discussing her challenges.  She didn’t ask for anything.

I was especially touched because growing up until now Cole’s music still holds a special place in my heart.  She is still as beautiful as ever too.

I really hope she gets her transplant and continues to live a productive and healthy life.

Music Week: My Favorite Female Vocalist

 

My Favorite Female Vocalist

 

For day two of music week I would like to talk about my favorite female vocalist. The female songstress has always been special to me because even as a child her vocals and expressions have kept me in touch with my feminine side. They have help to give me a respect for the beauty and grace of the woman.  As these women sing of love, heartache, redemption or simple fun – the female vocal is one that is a direct expression of God’s love and nurturing.  I will list my 10 favorite female vocalist and a few notables that I had a hard time leaving off the list.  Who are some of yours? 

 

Aretha Franklin – The daughter of the late Rev. C.L. Franklin, Detroit’s own is simply the Queen of Soul

 

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Gladys Knight – A true diva even back in the day, and still going strong. No one has a voice that sounds like her.  One of my favorite songs of all time still… Neither One Of Us, (Wants to be the First To Say Goodbye.)

 

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Chaka Kahn – Ok so I am showing my age here with all of these mature sisters.  But you can’t beat the longevity factor of the first three noted here.  Khan could also be ranked tops among the most beautiful singers of all time.  Musically her voice is off the chain and she has demonstrated the ability to mix Rock and Roll with Funk as she did with Rufus, as well as knock out a ballad or a jazz number with ease.

 

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Natalie Cole – This songstress has some of the most significant songs of my life.  I remember when my mom would play her 8-Tracks during Saturdays when we had to clean the house.  I still know all the words to my favorite two albums of hers, “Unpredictable” and “Thankful,” both released in 1977.  She reinvented herself by following in her father’s footsteps in doing music from the standard jazz songbook.  I hear she has had some physical challenges nowadays.  Get well Natalie!

 

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Phyllis Hyman – Talk about a true diva, a virtuous songstress.  OMG!  One of the best ballad singers of all time – This woman voice was deep and sensual.  It was easy to tell that she sang from her heart and many of her ballads held personal value.  Though her life ended tragically her music lives on.  She was and always will be a treasure to me.

 

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Nancy Wilson – Performing since the age of 15, this songstress comes with a resume as fat as the lard at a southern fried chicken contest!  Such an elegant voice, she is a ladies lady who personified class and grace.  Though her catalogue is most extensive, she can’t go anywhere without the song that starts with the line… “You’re so late – getting home from the office.  Did you miss your train?  Were you caught in the rain?  No don’t bother to explain…” (Guess Who I Saw Today)

 

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Stephanie Mills – She is the little woman with the big voice.  I grew up on this iconic figure as she belted out her music with a voice stronger than any on the market.  She sounds like a grown woman with the soul of a teenager.  My favorite song from Stephanie, “I Feel Good.”  “Home” is not far behind.

 

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Teena Marie – I truly came of age on the music of Lady T.  100% performer she gives one of the best concerts one will ever witness. Her ballads are timeless and though many have enjoyed Teena’s music over the years, she has a cult following as well of people like myself who have all of her music and will follow her wherever she goes. She truly has a voice from heaven and sings with loads of love, compassion, and attitude.

 

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Minnie Riperton – Only Mariah Carey comes to mind when I think of the octaves this incredible artist possessed.  Her voice was truly an instrument and she sang like a horn.  She will remain in our hearts.

 

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Sade – Sade Adu is a gift to all of us. An incredible artist whose music takes the imagination to far away places, I have been fortunate to see her for her only two performances in St. Louis.  A truly original artist, from the beginning Sade came with a brand and stuck with it.  No pop for this lady – she ain’t trying to make you dance. But you must pay attention!

 

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So goes it for my top 10. This list was no easy task and I had to drop some great divas – some of whom I am still conflicted about.  These notables who could crack any list of mine had I not been retricted to ten include, Rachelle Ferrell, Roberta Flack, Denise Williams, Mariah Carey, Chante’ Moore, Anita Baker and CeCe Winans.  And don’t sleep on Stevie Nicks, Annie Lennox and Randy Crawford!

 

Tomorrow – Discussion of the great artist, pop music, and the musical legacy of Whiney Houston.