Dame Cleo Laine, Lady Dankworth, DBE is an English jazz and pop singer and an actress, known for her scat singing and for her vocal range. She is the only female performer to have received Grammy nominations in the jazz, popular and classical music categories. She is the widow of jazz composer Sir John Dankworth.
Laine was born Clementine Dinah Bullock in Uxbridge, Middlesex on October 28, 1927 to unmarried parents. The family moved around constantly, but most of Laine's childhood was spent in Southall. She attended the Southall Boarding School (later known as Featherstone Primary School) and was sent by her mother for singing and dancing lessons at an early age. She went on to attend Mellow Lane Senior School in Hayes before going on to work as an apprentice hairdresser, a hat-trimmer, a librarian and in a pawnbroker's shop.
In 1946, under the name Clementina Dinah Campbell, Laine married George Langridge, a roof tiler, with whom she had a son, Stuart. The couple divorced in 1957. At the age of 24, she auditioned for John Dankworth's small group, the Dankworth Seven, and later his orchestra, with which she performed until 1958. Dankworth and Laine married that year in secret at Hampstead Register Office. While applying for a passport for a forthcoming tour of Germany that Laine found out her real birth name, due to her parents not being married at the time, and her mother registering her under her own name.
Influenced by Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Lena Horne, Laine started a musical career that has lasted several decades. She played the lead in a new play at London's Royal Court Theatre, which led to other stage performances, such as the musical "Valmouth" in 1959, the play "A Time to Laugh" with Robert Morley and Ruth Gordon in 1962, "Boots With Strawberry Jam" with John Neville in 1968 and eventually to her role in Wendy Toye's production of "Show Boat" at the Adelphi Theatre in London in 1971, which had its longest run to date in that London season with 910 performances staged. She had numerous TV appearances, beginning with the Saturday Comedy Hour 2 on February 2, 1957 with Benny Hill who later impersonated her in the episode, The Police Raid in Waterloo Station. Later shows included "Off The Record," "Panorama," "Bandstand," "after Hours," "Parade," "All That Jazz" and "Val Parnell's Sunday Night at the London Palladium."
In the Sixties, Laine had two major recording successes. "You'll Answer to Me," which reached the British Top 10 while Laine was "prima donna" in the 1961 Edinburgh Festival production of Kurt Weill's opera/ballet, "The Seven Deadly Sins," directed and choreographed by Kenneth MacMillan. She toured extensively through Europe, the USA, Canada and Australia and with them a succession of record albums and television appearances, including "The Muppet Show' in 1977 which led, after several nominations, to her first Grammy award. In 1979, Laine was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to music.
Laine has collaborated with many well-known classical musicians including James Galway, Nigel Kennedy, Julian Lloyd Webber and John Williams. In 1983, she won the Grammy for "Best Female Jazz Vocalist" for "Cleo at Carnegie: The 10th Anniversary Concert." She appeared in stage several more times in England and the USA, and in 1985, she originated the role of Princess Puffer in the Broadway hit musical, "The Mystery of Edwin Drood," for which she received a Tony nomination. In 1989, she received the Los Angeles critics' acclaim for her portrayal of the Witch in Sondheim's "Into the Woods."
In 1991, Laine received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the US recording industry in Los Angeles. She appeared with Frank Sinatra for a week of concerts at the Royal Albert Hall in London on May 1992. After several more albums, including one with jazz legend Mel Tormé, she recorded for RCA a 12-track CD Jazz for the RCA label, which featured also featured jazz musicians Gerry Mulligan, Clark Terry and Toots Thielemans. She also returned to Carnegie Hall during the late 1990s to mark twenty-five years since her hit record, "Cleo – Live at Carnegie." Her performance was recorded and released as "Cleo Laine – Live in Manhattan."
Supported by Dankworth with his band, orchestra or smaller group, Laine continued to seel out concerts across the globe. Her autobiography, "Cleo," was published in September 1994 by Simon & Schuster with a second book, "You Can Sing If You Want To," in October 1997. She continued to win honors, becoming elevated to Dame Commander in the 1997 New Year's Honours list, and getting appointed Dame Cleo Laine DBE, the equivalent of a knighthood. She considers to perform today, both Dankworth and Laine winning the Gold Award at the BBC Jazz Awards in 2008. They received a standing ovation for their performance with Guy Barker's specially-assembled big band at the finale of the award ceremony.
On February 6, 2010, Dankworth passed away hours before a planned concert at the Stables Theatre in Wavendon to celebrate the venue's 40th anniversary. He had been ill for several months following a concert tour in the United States. Despite her grief, Laine performed at the 40th anniversary concert, along with the John Dankworth Big Band and several members of her family. She continued performing after his death, stepping in for her late husband in concert at Pinner in north west London. Laine continued to perform and give interviews in the months following Dankworth's death and appeared as a headline act at the Music in the Garden festival at Wavendon in June and July 2010. their final musical collaboration was released on CD, featuring the Dankworth Big Band playing new compositions written by Dankworth for the couple's performance at the 2007 Proms at the Royal Albert Hall.