Robert Yancy has died. The son of legendary singer Natalie Cole was found dead in his San Fernando Valley apartment on Monday night, according to TMZ. His body was reportedly discovered when a friend who hadn’t heard from him in a few days checked up on him. He was 39.
Natalie Cole’s former backup singer Anita Anderson shared the sad news on Twitter Tuesday morning, writing: ‘WE HAVE LOST ANOTHER GREAT YOUNG SOUL TOO SOON!! ROBERT ADAM YANCY, NATALIE COLE’ S ONLY SURVIVING SON AND ACCOMPLISHED DRUMMER HAS DIED!! ‘
She later added: ‘REST IN PEACE As YOU JOURNEY HOME WITH MOM & DAD! AND KNOW YOU’RE ALWAYS IN OUR HEARTS SON!! LOVE YOU AND MISS YOU ALREADY!!!’
Here’s what you need to know about Robert Yancy:
1. He Was at His Mother’s Bedside When She Died in 2015
Natalie Cole died from congestive heart failure on New Year’s Eve, 2015. The singer’s sisters Casey and Timolin Cole flew out to Los Angeles to be with her in her final weeks. They told Daily Mail that they enjoyed their final days with their sister and her only son Yancy.
“It’s heartbreaking, she’s fought a very long battle and she’s at peace now,” said Casey, “She passed last night and we were not with her as we are back in Florida, but she was in hospital with her son Robert, he was by her side.”
In a joint statement, Yancy, Casey and Timolin wrote: “Natalie fought a fierce, courageous battle, dying how she lived … with dignity, strength and honour. Our beloved mother and sister will be greatly missed and remain unforgettable in our hearts forever.”
2. He Criticized the Tribute to Natalie Cole at the 2016 Grammy Awards
After Natalie Cole’s death in 2015, the Grammy Awards scheduled a tribute in her honor. Unfortunately, Yancy felt the tribute was not up to snuff for the first African American to win a Grammy for Best New Artist. “She has deserved so much more than that because she has done so much,” he told The Guardian. “The way she was treated last night (was) unacceptable. It was not right. It was really insulting.”
Yancy went on to say “Here is a woman who has been in the business for four decades, had 21 Grammy nominations and won nine Grammys. She deserves more than [to be a part of] a minute-and-a-half tribute.”
Timolan and Casey Cole agreed with their nephew, saying “Not even verbally mentioned. It was not something we felt was worthy of such an iconic star. Words cannot express the outrage and utter disappointment at the disrespectful tribute, or lack thereof, to a legendary artist such as our sister.”
Grammy producer Ken Ehrlich responded to the backlash, telling BET: “Frankly, I think it was appropriate. At one point I was playing around with ‘Miss You Like Crazy,’ because I love that song. But when I looked again at the Grammy show we did where she won for ‘Unforgettable,’ and I saw the last 45 seconds of that number, where her father throws her a kiss, she throws him a kiss, and then she turns to the audience and throws everybody a kiss — that just was so touching and so emotional to me that that felt like it had to be the end of the whole ‘In Memoriam’ segment.”
Ehrlich also claimed that he ran the clip by Timolan Cole, and that she approved it prior to it airing.
3. His Father Marvin Yancy Was a Musician & a Minister
Natalie Cole married Marvin Yancy on July 31, 1976. Marvin was a singer and member of the R&B group The Independents. After the group disbanded, however, Marvin focused on songwriting and producing for his wife, which resulted in her winning Grammy Awards for the songs “This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)” and “Sophisticated Lady (She’s a Different Lady)“.
Marvin was also an ordained Baptist minister who helped bring Cole back to religion. During their marriage, she changed from being Episcopalian to a devout Baptist.
The couple would get a divorce in 1980, and five years later, Marvin died of a heart attack. He was just 34 years old. In an interview with ABC News, Cole spoke on her time with Marvin and their young son: “Marriage to Marvin, and Robbie, was like a breath of pure, fresh, almost heavenly air. It was a man that I loved who loved me … we were just so close.”
Marvin released one solo album during his lifetime, Heavy Load (1985). The album peaked at number four on the US Gospel Charts.
4. He Played Drums in His Mother’s Concert Performances
In addition to his live credentials, Yancy was also a session musician who played on record. AllMusic lists his album credits as playing percussion on Cole’s 1993 album Take a Look, and saxophone on SWV‘s 1997 album A Special Christmas.
At the Celebration of Life for Natalie Cole in 2016, Yancy played music and gave a speech regarding his relationship with her. “What a woman, he said, “She taught me how to love. She had my back every time I needed it. The greatest gift she ever gave me was Jesus. I cannot wait until that day I see you again.”
The Washington Times confirms that both Yancy and Cole were avid churchgoers and they had a shared passion for the faith.
5. His Official Cause of Death Has Yet to Be Determined
Yancy was found dead in his apartment in the San Fernando Valley. According to TMZ, local authorities contacted his family and informed them that the preliminary cause of death appears to have been a heart attack.
Despite this initial diagnosis, however, San Fernando Valley police have stated that they are awaiting Yancy’s autopsy and toxicology report before they make an official ruling. Currently, Yancy’s death is listed as the result of natural causes.
Yancy’s family claim that San Fernando Valley police contacted them early Tuesday morning and informed them that the cause of death was heart attack. That being said, police are awaiting an autopsy and toxicology report, and are tentatively listing the cause of death as the result of natural causes.
Authorities were clear in ruling out drugs as a potential cause. They tell TMZ that no narcotics were found at the scene, affirming the testimony of Yancy’s family, who claim that he “never abused drugs.” (His mother famously fought drug addiction throughout her adult life) The family went on to say that Yancy was “turning his life around” before he died.