Natalie Cole, the legendary R&B singer, actress, and activist who touched the world with her iconic music and personal triumph over substance abuse, died on Friday, January 1. The 65-year-old musician and daughter of Nat King Cole is being mourned by HIV activists and community leaders for her work on the cause.
Cole was one of the first major celebrity donors to the NMAC, an HIV organization that formed in 1987 and just last year made a "significant pivot working for racial justice" to end the HIV and AIDS epidemic. In 1998, Cole donated $10,000, which was at the time the largest donation the agency had ever received, and she became a longtime supporter and HIV ally.
“We were so excited about the contribution, that we didn’t know if we should frame the check or cash it,” said executive director of NMAC, Paul Kawata. “NMAC was a small, struggling agency and her money helped to change the course of our work.”
Kawata says the “Unforgettable” singer was one of the first celebrities to publicly support HIV-related causes in a time when many were still afraid to talk about HIV, let alone contribute to the cause.
Cole’s commitment to NMAC and HIV activism was more than just social charity. When her brother Kelly died in 1995 at the young age of 36 from AIDS-related complications, Cole dedicated herself to supporting people with HIV and finding a way to stop the epidemic.
Cole was an award winning singer and actress whose music career spans decades. With an impressive nine Grammy awards, she first won for her breakout record, “This Will Be,” in 1976, and most recently for her album Still Unforgettable in 2009. Cole was also nominated for an Emmy award in 1992 for her a televised performance of her father’s songs.
Yesterday, NMAC sent notes to supporters encouraging them to remember, honor, and mourns the passing of Cole, paying tribute to her artistry and commitment to HIV activism.