Fifteen years and five #1 hits after breaking into the music industry by working in a style completely different from her famous father’s, Natalie Cole stopped distancing herself from Nat King Cole’s musical legacy and instead embraced it, recording an entire album of standards from her father’s old repertoire. Though it exposed her to charges of exploiting his memory, it also gave Cole the biggest hit album of her professional career: Unforgettable: With Love, which climbed to the top of the Billboard 200 album chart on July 27, 1991.
Natalie Cole began her career with the #1 R&B hit “This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)” (1975) and followed it with four more in the same vein: “Inseparable” (1976); “Sophisticated Lady (She’s A Different Lady)” (1976); “I’ve Got Love On My Mind” (1977); and “Our Love” (1978). She was awarded the Grammy for Best New Artist of 1975 and won the award for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female, in both 1975 and 1976, ending a run of eight straight wins in that category by Aretha Franklin. A severe drug problem would plague Natalie Cole through the first phase of her professional career, even as she continued to turn out albums on a nearly annual basis. By the time she left her drug habit behind in the early 1980s, however, Cole’s popularity was a thing of the past.
Unforgettable: With Love marked a significant shift in both musical direction and career fortunes for Natalie Cole. The album comprised 22 songs from the Nat King Cole catalog, including solo performances of “Route 66,” “Mona Lisa,” and “Straighten Up And Fly Right” as well as a “duet” between Natalie and her father on his biggest hit of all, “Unforgettable.” The skillful production work on “Unforgettable” may not have entirely removed the creepiness factor of a daughter singing with her dead father, but the song swept every eligible category in at the 1991 Grammy Awards: Song of the Year, Record of the Year and Best Traditional Pop Performance. Its success on the radio also helped Unforgettable: With Love sell more than 8 million copies, win the Grammy for Album of the Year and, on this day in 1991, top the Billboard album charts.
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