Natalie, Chuck and Marvin: A Musical Match Made in Chicago

When I think of successful songwriter/singer partnerships, Dionne Warwick, Burt Bacharach and Hal David come to mind. Brothers Brian and Eddie Holland, joined by Lamont Dozier, who penned countless hits for the Supremes and the Four Tops, also make the list. Future blog posts will focus on these and other remarkable collaborations.

In the mid 70s, a musical alliance was formed in Chicago that launched singer Natalie Cole into R&B superstardom. She began working with the songwriting/production team of Chuck Jackson and Marvin Yancy. According to Robert Pruter in the book, Chicago Soul, Jackson, a commercial art major who minored in music while attending college, moved to Chicago in 1968 to work as an art director for Playboy magazine. However, music remained his first love. Two years later, Jackson, who is also a half-brother of civil rights activist Rev. Jesse Jackson, left Playboy to join a songwriters workshop founded by Jerry “the Iceman” Butler.

Yancy was a gifted musician who eventually succeeded his father as pastor of Fountain of Life Baptist Church on Chicago’s South Side. A graduate of Cooley High School who later attended Moody Bible Institute and the Chicago Bible Institute, Yancy played keyboards for gospel legends including Rev. James Cleveland, Jessy Dixon, Inez Andrews and Albertina Walker during the late 60s.

 The two men met in 1971 at Operation PUSH’s Black Expo, while Yancy accompanied Albertina Walker on piano. They became fast friends and ultimately formed a production company that resulted in some of Cole’s most memorable songs. This Will Be, a Jackson/Yancy composition, was the first hit released in 1975 from her debut album, Inseparable, on Capitol Records. The title track was the album’s second #1 single.

 I remember hearing This Will Be as a child, thinking it was an Aretha Franklin record—so did many others. Cole often cited the Queen of Soul’s influence and frequently performed her songs while playing the lounge circuit. Ironically, it was this recording which earned Cole a 1976 Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance–Female, ending Franklin’s eight-year winning streak in that category. Cole also received the Grammy Award for Best New Artist.

My two favorite Yancy/Jackson/Cole songs are I’ve Got Love on My Mind (Unpredictable LP, 1977, Capitol) and Our Love (Thankful LP, 1977, Capitol). When either song comes on the radio, whether I’m among a group of friends or strangers, a flash mob karaoke experience happens. Everyone sings the lead and the chorus; some of us even imitate the instruments and ad-libs. That’s when you know a song is great!

Please join me in Sounding Off by sharing your favorite Natalie Cole songs and why you like them. Thanks for reading this!

Kimberly Vann

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