Well known for showing the influences of Dinah Washington, Peggy Lee or Ella Fitzgerald, who knew Natalie Cole could wail like Janis Joplin? The highlight of her concert with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra on Sunday may have been Cole’s unexpected and powerful version of Joplin’s soaring “Cry Baby,” though the whole show was chockfull of moving moments.
Cole even sang with her late dad, Nat King Cole, thanks to their technology-created “duet” of “Unforgettable” in 1991 being projected onto the screen behind the orchestra. She paced her concert beautifully, opening with jazz and ballads before taking a short break, putting on a sparkling white top over her sparkling black evening gown, and cranking up the music with her tight eight-piece band and the ASO.
Her performance culminated with a rousing rendition of “This Will Be,” which had several fans in the balcony up and dancing. Cole came back out, received a key to the city from Barbara Graves, apologized for having referred to the local musicians as the “Little Rock” symphony, and performed an encore with “Inseparable” (dedicated to her fans, she said) and “Our Love.” She left “I’ve Got Love on My Mind” off the set list, but two standing ovations and happy faces indicated that no one in the nearly full Robinson Center minded.
— By Jim Harris