Back in 1958, Nat King Cole recorded Cole Español, the first of what would be three hugely successful albums in Spanish. Recorded between Havana and Los Angeles, the album — which included Cole’s versions of Latin standards, with arrangements by Nelson Riddle — was extraordinarily visionary for its time.
It was Cole’s first studio album since her kidney transplant in 2009, and it would be her last.
“This is not a tribute to my father as much as it is a tribute to Latin music because of my father,” Cole told Billboard in an interview before the album’s release. “Hearing my dad sing in Spanish was a revelation,” she added at the time, recalling watching him perform as a child on her first trip to Mexico.
Cole told Billboard she had first started toying with the idea of a Spanish album a decade earlier, and actually pitched it to Capitol Records, but “the timing wasn’t right.” She later brought it up with David Foster, who had produced her Unforgettable album. After Foster became chairman of Verve Music Group in 2011, he signed Cole, and in 2012, she started working with producer Rudy Perez in Miami.
Natalie Cole En Español debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Latin Albums chart and was nominated for three Latin Grammy awards. Like her dad’s Cole Español, the 12-track set, produced by Perez, covered many Latin American standards, including “Besame Mucho” (recorded with Andrea Bocelli), “Frenesí” and “Quizás, quizás, quizás.” It also featured Juan Luis Guerra’s “Bachata rosa” (recorded with Guerra himself), “Yo lo amo” (featuring trumpeter Chris Botti) and “Oye como va” (featuring pianist Arthur Hanlon).
And just as Cole famously sang on her dad’s “Unforgettable” after his death, this time she did it again with “Acércate Más,” which Nat King Cole had recorded in Cuba in 1956.
Beyond its critical and commercial success, Natalie Cole en Español also held special significance for the singer.
The kidney transplant that Cole received in 2009 came from a Salvadoran donor, a young woman who died giving birth.
“I don’t believe in coincidences. I believe everything happens for a reason. That this was a Latin family, I feel like I’m part Latino now. That (made) the desire to make this record became even stronger,” Cole told Billboard.