As we celebrate 100 years of Nat King Cole, who was born March 17, 1919, UMe has released three albums of his music. We spoke with the legendary performer’s youngest children, twin daughters Timolin and Casey Cole about their father.
By Warren Kurtz
GOLDMINE:Congratulations on having three releases from Universal to celebrate your father’s music this year. We announced this online at Goldmine in mid-January. On the 21 song Ultimate collection, he is showcased as a composer with “Straighten Up and Fly Right.” When my wife Donna’s aunt passed away in Cleveland, I inherited her Nat King Cole collection and that is where I learned another one of my favorite songs of his, also on the new collection, “Walkin’ My Baby Back Home.” Donna and I now live in Florida, near our daughter Brianna, but years ago Donna and I moved from Cleveland to Texas and took Route 66 through part of that trip. The new album opens with “(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66.” Watching your dad perform this song on the recent TV special, what amazes me is that, other than the piano solo when he is not singing, he never watches his hands, and there is a lot going on with what he is playing.
TIMOLIN AND CASEY COLE: This is the first time to have televised segments of our dad’s hit songs back to back, singing and playing piano and that’s exciting. The special is on PBS throughout March called “My Music – Nat King Cole’s Greatest Songs.”
GM: Do you play musical instruments?
T&CC: Our mom, Maria Cole, who was a jazz singer, raised us to play the piano. We had piano lessons every Wednesday and we weren’t fond of it. We weren’t naturals, let’s say. We did have the training and an appreciation for music at an early age. When we moved to Massachusetts to the Berkshires, Mom would take us to places to expose us to music including the symphony, Tanglewood and The Boston Pops. So, we have a deep appreciation for all types of music.
GM:We just saw The Boston Pops on tour in Florida playing the music of John Williams. It was wonderful.
T&CC: We heard that tour was happening. You know, he was a very dear friend of our mom.
GM:The new album includes your dad’s 1951 version of “Unforgettable.” This is a song that had a great resurgence for it’s 40th anniversary in 1991 as a gold single, as a creative duet with your sister. Donna, Brianna and I would watch Natalie Sunday nights in the mid-‘90s on “Touched by an Angel.”
T&CC: I remember when she did that show. It was great.
GM:A few years later Brianna was introduced to another of your dad’s songs on the Ultimate collection, through David Bowie, with him performing “Nature Boy,” for the 2001 film Moulin Rouge soundtrack.
T&CC: Oh, for goodness sake. Wow.
GM:Your dad’s final charting flip side was the catchy song “L-O-V-E” in 1964. This is one that is still popular today in clubs with singers of all ages. For example, in Cincinnati, singer and pianist Melissa Claire, who is in her mid-‘20s, has it in her set list. “L-O-V-E” is not only included on the Ultimate collection, but also five more times on the International collection, sung in French, German, Japanese, Spanish and Italian. “Perfidia” on Ultimate, is also in Spanish, with a tropical sound. One of my favorite tropical sounding songs from your family is another flip side, “La Costa,” that Natalie co-wrote with Linda Williams (who is now called Aziza Miller). I featured this song in Natalie’s memorial.
T&CC: We must read that. “La Costa” is wonderful.
Nat King Cole
Flip side: L-O-V-E
A side: I Don’t Want to See Tomorrow
Top 100 Debut: 9/19/64 for A side, peak position No. 34
9/26/64 for flip side, peak position No. 81
GM:Growing up on Motown music in the ‘60s, it is a treat to hear Marvin Gaye sing your dad’s music.
T&CC: Yes, Universal has put together a new Motown/Universal album with songs of our dad’s that he recorded over the years.
GM:“Too Young,” which your dad delivered so well on the PBS special, is included in the new Marvin Gaye collection. “I Wish You Love” also sounds so smooth, and then there is one with personal nostalgia for me. The first song of your father’s that I remember hearing was “Ramblin’ Rose.” It was on the radio in 1962, when I was four. Then in February of 1965, my father and his business partner opened a restaurant which had a jukebox in the bar. When your father passed away that month, “Ramblin’ Rose” was added to the jukebox. At one of our first dinners there, I asked where that music was coming from and my dad took me to the edge of the restaurant where the jukebox was in the bar area, which I was not permitted in, and I caught my first glimpe of a jukebox and heard your dad’s voice.
T&CC: That’s great.
GM:That summer, I saw your father for the first time, in the film Cat Ballou with him and Stubby Kaye as the minstrels. My dad and I loved it and one I introduced the movie to Donna years later and then Brianna too.
T&CC: Yes, that was wonderful, with Jane Fonda too.
GM:Speaking of movies, have you seen Green Book yet? It was good to hear your father’s reference within that film. Donna and I just saw it. I loved it, with all the music. Donna enjoyed it too, but found it be tough to watch, in terms of the southern racial issues.
T&CC: I thought it was the most poignant part of the movie. When Mahershala Ali, who plays Don Shirley, performs at the club, he is not able to eat at the club in Alabama but, of course, he is scheduled to perform there. He really does have an issue with it. His driver sits down with his musician and asks, “How does he do this, time after time? It is horrible.” The musicians look at him and say, “Sometimes it takes more than genius. Genius is not always enough. It takes courage to change people’s hearts.” He was referring to Dad and that was very true. Dad was more than an artist. He proved to be an agent of social change.
Photo courtesy of natkingcolegenerationhope.org
GM:Let’s talk about Nat King Cole Generation Hope, right here in Florida. Congratulations on its success and thank you from me and my family for what you are doing.
T&CC: We both live in Florida, like you. We started Nat King Cole Generation Hope about ten years ago, so this year we are celebrating our 10th year anniversary. We launched it in memory of and in honor of our father as a response to budget cuts, not only in Florida, but across the nation to the arts programs. We feel this is a wonderful way to preserve and honor our father’s legacy while ensuring that children in need are given access to a quality music education. We have raised funds in excess of $1.7 million and have served over 35,000 children. We provide a mentoring program. We have our summer strings program, which is our labor of love. We started that here in Palm Beach County, coupled with the Palm Beach School District and the university. Students come for two weeks and then we have a concert. It is very impressive to see what they have learned in two weeks. Some are recurring students, and some are beginners. It is adorable to see the thrill on their faces at what they have accomplished at the end of that two week period. We also provide musical instruments and we are at about 35 schools.
GM:With the goal to “foster harmony between people through music, the universal music of all mankind.” I think the word choice of “harmony” is so key and so wonderful.
T&CC: It is. Our father used to say, “Perhaps one day I will bring harmony between people through my music.” It rings true today. We need it so much. We need that harmony and I think we can all agree that music is the universal language that can do that. Our dad was raised in Chicago. We were able to also start the Generation Hope program in Chicago this past summer at the VanderCook College of Music, a private non-profit college. The school instructs students on how to become music teachers. Our program is really a life changing experience. The mentors are college graduates and undergraduates. The students are receiving individual, small group and large ensemble instruction and we incorporate the curriculum of the school districts and universities.
GM:Has your father’s music been used in the past ten years in these programs?
T&CC: It is funny you should ask that. The very last song at the hour long concert is “Unforgetable,” and that is really sweet. We also have a Nat and Maria Cole Memorial Scholarship, in memory of our parents and that is wonderful, as well. They are our angels now, guiding us as we do this wonderful work we are doing.
Warren Kurtz is a Contributing Editor at Goldmine. “Warren’s Fabulous Flip Sides” can be heard most Saturday mornings, in the 9 a.m. hour, Eastern time, as part of “Moments to Remember” at wvcr.com or iHeart Radio – search WVCR.