Combined, they boast 22 platinum and gold records, 18 Grammy Awards and almost 300 million albums sold worldwide. This summer, musical icons Patti LaBelle, Gladys Knight and Natalie Cole will share their talents as headliners in the Tony-nominated musical revue After Midnight.
"All of our music stems from these musicians," said Cole, 64, of the jazz artists represented in After Midnight. Cole will be making her Broadway debut Aug. 5 at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. The singer-songwriter would know best, having grown up the daughter of famed jazz pianist and baritone Nat King Cole and Maria Hawkins Ellington, a performer with the Duke Ellington Orchestra.
"That whole retro era that I was brought up in was very inspiring," she continued. "There's, to me, a tone in the voice, which is why we loved Ella, which is why we loved Carmen, Sarah, even Billie Holiday. They just had a certain tone to their voice that made it sound like they were born for this music."
She refers to jazz greats Ella Fitzgerald, Carmen McRae, Sarah Vaughan and Billie Holiday (represented on Broadway in the biographical play with music Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill), whose voices imprinted such songs as "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea," "I Can't Give You Anything But Love," "I've Got the World on a String" and "Stormy Weather" — music celebrated at Broadway's Atkinson.
"The music from this particular show really excited me because I grew up on it," explained Knight, 70, who returns to Broadway (July 8-Aug. 3) for the first time since 1999, when she guest starred in another famed revue, Smokey Joe's Café. "When I was in high school, our band teacher had the number one jazz combo in Atlanta. That's how I got introduced to this kind of music because he made me study. He wanted me to be the vocalist to his band, but he made me study all the greats, like Ella Fitzgerald and [alto saxophonist] Cannonball Adderley — from one end to the other, not just singers — and I just developed this [affinity] for that kind of music. It was so pure, jazz, and to be involved in a play that is so pure with that music [is] just an exciting thing to me."
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