The Polo Lounge restaurant in the Beverly Hills Hotel is one of those celebrity-sighting spots where moguls mix and cut deals, divas preen and profile, and bona fide stars sit at secluded corner tables. On this sunny winter day, Natalie Cole, tall, taut and terrific-looking at 53, is at a semicircular table behind the piano having lunch with Nona Gaye, a shy, smoldering beauty of 28. It is a historic sit-down.
When Essence invited these two women to have a first-ever conversation, we knew the daughter of Nat “King” Cole, the smoothest singer of the fifties, and the daughter of Marvin Gaye, the sexiest singer of the sixties, seventies and early eighties, would no doubt bring common backgrounds and celebrity legacies to the table. But we didn’t realize just how far those legacies still reach, or the extent to which shared history has led to shared destinies. Both women have stepped out of the shadow of famous fathers to make their own name in the entertainment field, and, as with their fathers, more binds them than separates them.

The rich, velvety voice of Nat “King” Cole defined 1950’s buttoned-down elegance. The lush, sensual voice of Marvin Gaye defined 1970’s sexual freedom. Cole was cool and classy, Gaye was fine and hot—tough acts to follow. For Natalie, who lost her father to lung cancer when she was 15, and Nona, whose father was killed by his own father when she was 9, being a daddy’s girl has brought great privilege and great pain. In an industry that gave them access because of their famous names and burdens for the same reason, following in the footsteps of legends has meant trip-ups as well as success.

For more on Natalie Cole and Nona Gaye, read the May issue of ESSENCE magazine.

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