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Cleo Laine

Dame Cleo Laine
Laine in 2007
Background information
Birth name Clementine Dinah Bullock
Born (1927-10-28) 28 October 1927
Uxbridge, Middlesex, England
Genres Jazz, pop
Occupation(s) Actress, singer
Years active 1950–present

Dame Cleo Laine, Lady Dankworth, DBE (born 28 October 1927) is an English jazz and pop singer and an actress, noted for her scat singing and for her vocal range. Though her natural range is that of a contralto, she is able to produce a "G above high C", giving her an overall compass of well over three octaves.[1]

Laine 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.


  • Early life 1
  • Early career 2
  • 1960s–1970s: Recording and performing success 3
  • 1980s–1990s: Broadway and a Grammy 4
  • 2000s: Recognition and honours 5
  • Voice 6
  • Death of Sir John Dankworth 7
  • The Stables theatre 8
  • Discography 9
  • Awards and recognition 10
  • References 11
  • External links 12

Early life

Laine was born Clementine Dinah Bullock in Uxbridge, Middlesex,[2] to unmarried parents[3] Alexander Sylvan Campbell, a black Jamaican father who worked as a building labourer[4] and regularly busked,[5] and Minnie Bullock, a white English mother, a farmer's daughter from Swindon, Wiltshire. The family moved round constantly, but most of Laine's childhood was spent in Southall. She attended the Board School there on Featherstone Road (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[4] before going on to work as an apprentice hairdresser, a hat-trimmer, a librarian and in a pawnbroker's shop.[3]

In 1946, under the name Clementina Dinah Campbell,[6] Laine married George Langridge, a roof tiler, with whom she had a son, Stuart. The couple divorced in 1957.[7][8] It was not until 1953, when she was 26 and 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.[3]

Early career

Laine did not take up singing professionally until her mid-twenties. She auditioned successfully, at the age of 24, for the Johnny Dankworth Seven band, led by musician John Dankworth[4] (1927–2010), with which she performed until 1958, when she married Dankworth in secret at Hampstead Register Office. The only witnesses were the couple's friend, pianist Ken Moule, and his arranger, David Lindup. The couple had two children, Alec who lives in the USA and Jacqui, a British singer who has released a number of albums.[9] Both became successful musicians in their own right.

Laine began her career as a singer and actress. She played the lead in a new play at London's Royal Court Theatre, home of the new wave of playwrights of the 1950s such as John Osborne and Harold Pinter. This 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 as show-stopping Julie La Verne in Wendy Toye's production of Show Boat at the Adelphi Theatre in London in 1971.[10] Show Boat had its longest run to date in that London season with 910 performances staged.[11]

1960s–1970s: Recording and performing success

Cleo Laine (1962)

During this period, she had two major recording successes. "You'll Answer to Me" 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 Sir Kenneth MacMillan. In 1964 her Shakespeare and All that Jazz album with Dankworth received widespread critical acclaim.

Laine's international activities began in 1972, with a successful first tour of Australia. Shortly afterwards, her career in the United States was launched with a concert at New York's Lincoln Center, followed in 1973 by the first of many Carnegie Hall appearances. Coast-to-coast tours of the U.S. and Canada soon followed, and with them a succession of record albums and television appearances, including The Muppet Show in 1977.[12] This led, after several nominations, to her first Grammy award, in recognition of the live recording of her 1983 Carnegie concert. She has continued to tour periodically, including in Australia in 2005.[13]

She has collaborated with many well-known classical musicians including James Galway, Nigel Kennedy, Julian Lloyd Webber and John Williams.

Other important recordings during that time were duet albums with Arnold Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire, which won Laine a classical Grammy nomination.

1980s–1990s: Broadway and a Grammy

Laine's relationship with the musical theatre started in Britain and continued in the United States with starring performances in Sondheim's A Little Night Music and The Merry Widow (Michigan Opera). In 1980 she starred in Colette, a new musical by Dankworth. The show originally opened at the Stables theatre, Wavendon, in 1979 and transferred to the Comedy Theatre, London, in September 1980. 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, and in 1989 she received the Los Angeles critics' acclaim for her portrayal of the Witch in Sondheim's Into the Woods.

In 1979, Laine was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to music.

In 1983, Laine won the Grammy Award – Best Female Jazz Vocalist, for Cleo at Carnegie: The 10th Anniversary Concert.

In 1991, she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the US recording industry in Los Angeles.[10]

In May 1992, Laine appeared with Frank Sinatra for a week of concerts at the Royal Albert Hall, London.[14] She told a reporter in 2007: "I was very impressed with his singing, to me he sounded even better in those concerts than he did on the records. It was a real thrill to be part of his show."

Laine recorded more albums, including one with another jazz legend Mel Tormé (Nothing Without You). In 1991 she recorded the 12-track CD Jazz for the RCA label, which featured her vocals on classics such as "Lady Be Good", "St. Louis Blues" and "The Midnight Sun". The album also featured jazz musicians Gerry Mulligan, Clark Terry and Toots Thielemans.

She also returned to Carnegie Hall during the late 1990s to mark 25 years since her hit record Cleo – Live at Carnegie. Her performance was recorded and released as Cleo Laine – Live in Manhattan.

2000s: Recognition and honours

By the late 1990s, Laine became regarded as one of the top jazz vocalists of all time – in the same league as Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Carmen McRae. Her concerts sold out across the globe, usually supported by Dankworth with his band, orchestra or smaller group. Her usual band included John Horler (piano), Alec Dankworth (bass), Allan Ganley (drums) and Mark Nightingale (trombone).

Laine's autobiography, Cleo, was published in September 1994 by Simon & Schuster. Her second book, You Can Sing If You Want To, was published by Victor Gollancz in October 1997.

In the 1997 New Year's Honours list, Laine's membership of the order was elevated to Dame Commander, and she was appointed Dame Cleo Laine DBE (the equivalent of a knighthood).

In the 2006 New Year's Honours list, her husband was made a knight bachelor, becoming Sir John Dankworth. They were one of the few couples where both partners held their titles in their own right and the only couple in jazz to be thus recognised.

On 28 October 2007, Laine turned 80. She marked her birthday with a series of special concerts in Britain, including an appearance with the John Dankworth Sextet at Birmingham Town Hall on 18 December 2007. She said of her milestone birthday: "I don't think about being 80. What would be the point? I'm limping a bit because they've given me a new knee, but that's about the only difference. I don't want to start thinking about what I should or shouldn't be doing at my age. It's not right."

To celebrate the 80th birthdays of both Laine and Dankworth, Union Square Music released the four disc box set I Hear Music – the most comprehensive and lovingly produced examination of their careers ever assembled: Disc 1: Early Days (1944–56), Disc 2: John, Big Band and the Movies (1956–74), Disc 3: Focus On Cleo (1955–91), Disc 4: A Family Affair (including recordings made with their children, Alec and Jacqui, from 1982 to 2005).

In 2008, Dankworth and Laine won the Gold Award at the BBC Jazz Awards. The couple got a standing ovation for their performance with Guy Barker's specially-assembled big band at the finale of the award ceremony.

A New York critic wrote of Laine and Dankworth's September 2008 engagement at Blue Note: "Dankworth’s alto sax and clarinet sound as gossamer as ever, while Laine’s voice remains a wonder of agility and plummy richness. After 57 years of dual music-making (and 50 of marriage), the Dankworths can anticipate one another’s every move; they make a stage seem as comfortable as their living room."

In 2010, Laine and her husband appeared in an episode of the cult CBeebies children's show ZingZillas. The episode was called "ScatZilla!".


Laine is famed for not only her interpretative style, but also her four-octave range and vocal adaptability. As well as hitting deep soulful notes, Laine's thrilling scatting and crystalline top notes have become her signature. Though her natural range is that of a contralto she is able to produce a "G above high C". Derek Jewel of the Sunday Times dubbed her "quite simply the best singer in the world."

The longevity of Laine's voice has also been noted by, among others, her husband. At the age of 80 her vocals, he noted during an interview, were almost unchanged from decades earlier.

Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Lena Horne were all influences on Laine when she was young.

Death of Sir John Dankworth

Dankworth died on 6 February 2010, 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 – only announcing his death at the end. Laine's decision to perform featured on newspaper front pages all over the world, including a full photograph of her on the front page of The Times.

A week after Dankworth's death, Laine stepped in for her late husband and appeared again in concert at Pinner in north west London. Laine continued to perform and give interviews in the months following Dankworth's death. She appeared as a headline act at the Music in the Garden festival at Wavendon in June and July 2010.

In March 2010, Laine and Dankworth's final musical collaboration was released on CD and for download – Jazz Matters. The recording featured the Dankworth Big Band playing new compositions written by Dankworth for the couple's performance at the 2007 Proms at the Royal Albert Hall.

The Stables theatre

Dankworth and Laine founded the Stables theatre in 1970 in what was the old stables block in the grounds of their home. It was an immediate success, with 47 concerts given in the first year. The venue now presents over 350 concerts and around 250 education events in its two auditoria; the 400-seat Jim Marshall auditorium, and smaller studio space at Stage 2. The venue was completely rebuilt in 2000, with the new foyer following the plan of the original theatre, with a subsequent development in 2007 to create Stage 2. On 6 February 2010 it celebrated its 40th anniversary with a gala concert starring Laine.


  • 1950–52 Get Happy Esquire ESQ317 Reissued in 1985–86 (3 tracks)
  • 1955 Cleo Sings British (10") Esquire
  • 1957 Meet Cleo Laine
  • 1957 In Retrospect MGM
  • 1957 She's the Tops MGM 2354026
  • 1959 Valmouth (original cast) Pye
  • 1961 Jazz Date (with Tubby Hayes) Wing
  • 1961 Spotlight on Cleo
  • 1962 All About Me Fontana
  • 196? Cleo Laine Jazz Master Series DRG Records MRS 502
  • 1963 CindyElla (original cast of 1962 Xmas production) Decca
  • 1963 Beyond the Blues (American Negro Poetry) Argo
  • 1964 Shakespeare and All that Jazz Fontana
  • 1964 This is Cleo Laine Shakespeare and All That Jazz Philips
  • 1966 Woman Talk Fontana
  • 1967 Facade (with Annie Ross) British reissue: Philips Fontana
  • 1968 If We Lived on Top of a Mountain Fontana
  • 1968 Soliloquy Fontana
  • 1969 The Idol (Dankworth soundtrack w/ 2 Cleo vocals) Fontana
  • 1969 The Unbelievable Miss Cleo Laine Fontana
  • 1971 Portrait Philips
  • 1972 An Evening with Cleo Laine and the John Dankworth Quartet Philips, Sepia
  • 1972 Feel the Warm Philips
  • 1972 Showboat (single LP) EMIColumbia
  • 1972 Showboat (double LP) EMI/Stanyan
  • 1972 This is Cleo Laine EMI
  • 1973 I Am a Song RCA
  • 1973 Day by Day Stanyan
  • 1974 Live at Carnegie Hall RCA
  • 1974 CloseUp RCA
  • 1974 Pierrot Lunaire (Schoenberg) Ives Songs RCA
  • 1974 A Beautiful Thing (with James Galway) RCA
  • 1974 Easy Living (anthology of Fontana tracks) RCA
  • 1974 Spotlight on Cleo Laine (double LP) Philips
  • 1974 Cleo's Choice Pye
  • 1975 Cleo's Choice (abridged issue on Quintessence Jazz) Quintessence
  • 1975 The Unbelievable Miss Cleo Laine Contour 6870675
  • 1976 Born on a Friday RCA
  • 1976 CloseUp (reissue?) Victor
  • 1976 Live at the Wavendon Festival BBC (Black Lion)
  • 1976 Porgy & Bess (with Ray Charles) London
  • 1976 Return to Carnegie RCA
  • 1976 Best Friends (with John Williams) RCA
  • 1976 Leonard Feather's Encyclopedia of Jazz in the '70's RCA
  • 1977 20 Famous Show Hits Arcade
  • 1977 The Sly Cormorant (read by Cleo and Brian Patten) Argo (Decca)
  • 19?? Romantic Cleo RCA 42750
  • 1978 Showbiz Personalities of 1977 9279304
  • 1978 The Early Years Pye GH653
  • 1978 Gonna Get Through RCA
  • 1978 A Lover & His Lass Esquire Treasure
  • 1978 Wordsongs (double LP) RCA
  • 1979 One More Day DRG
  • 1979 The Cleo Laine Collection (double LP) RCA
  • 1980 Cleo's Choice (reissue?) Pickwick
  • 1980 Collette (original cast) Sepia
  • 1980 Sometimes When We Touch (with James Galway) RCA
  • 1980 The Incomparable Black Lion BLM51006
  • 1981 One More Day Sepia
  • 1982 Smilin' Through (with Dudley Moore) CBS
  • 1983 Platinum Collection (double LP) Magenta
  • 1983 Off the Record WEA Sierra GFE DD1003
  • 1984 Let the Music Take You (w/ John Williams) CBS
  • 1985 Cleo at Carnegie the 10th Anniversary Concert RCA
  • 1985 That Old Feeling CBS
  • 1985 Johnny Dankworth and his Orchestra,
  • 1985 The John Dankworth 7 featuring Cleo Laine EMI
  • 1986 Wordsongs Westminster
  • 1986 The Mystery of Edwin Drood Philips
  • 1986 Unforgettable 16 Golden Classics Castle
  • 1986 Cleo Laine The Essential Collection Sierra
  • 1987 Unforgettable PRT
  • 1987 Classic Gershwin (1 track on this CD, Embraceable You) CBS
  • 1988 Cleo Laine Sings Sondheim RCA
  • 1988 Showboat (reissue of 1972 cast album) EMI/Stanyan
  • 1988 Cleo Laine & John Dankworth Shakespeare and All That Jazz Affinity
  • 1989 Woman to Woman RCA
  • 1989 Jazz RCA
  • 1989 Portrait of a Song Stylist Harmony
  • 1991 Young At Heart Castle ATJCD 5959
  • 1991 Spotlight on Cleo Laine Phonogram 848129.2
  • 1991 Pachebel's Greatest Hits (1 track) RCA
  • 1992 Nothing Without You (with Mel Tormé) Concord
  • 1993 On the Town (1 track)
  • 1994 I Am a Song RCA
  • 1994 Blue and Sentimental RCA
  • 1995 Solitude RCA
  • 1997 The Very Best of Cleo Laine RCA
  • 1997 Mad About the Boy Abracadabra
  • 1998 Ridin' High (Early Sessions) Koch
  • 1998 Trav'lin' Light: The Johnny Mercer Songbook (1 track) Verve
  • 1998 Let's Be Frank (1 track) MCA
  • 1998 The Collection Spectrum Music
  • 1999 Sondheim Tonight Live From the Barbican (1 track) Jay
  • 1999 The Best of Cleo Laine Redial
  • 1999 The Silver Anniversary Concert (Carnegie Hall, Limited Edition) Sepia
  • 1999 Christmas at the Stables
  • 1999 That Old Feeling Sony
  • 2001 Quintessential Cleo Gold Label
  • 2001 Live in Manhattan Gold Label
  • 2002 Quality Time Universal/Absolute
  • 2003 Loesser Genius Qnote
  • 2005 Once Upon a Time Qnote
  • 2006 London Pride (2 tracks with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra) Castle Pulse
  • 2010 Jazz Matters Qnote

Awards and recognition

A street in Adelaide, South Australia was named "Cleo Lane" after her.[15]


  1. ^ Pleasants, H. (1985). The Great American Popular Singers, Simon and Schuster.
  2. ^ "Clementine Bullock" in Birth, Marriage, Death & Parish Records.
  3. ^ a b c Michael Church, "Caribbean Cleo? The amazing Cleo Laine", Caribbean Beat, Issue 13.
  4. ^ a b c Interview Jonathan Sale, "Passed/Failed CLEO LAINE", The Independent, 11 June 1998.
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Clementina Campbell" in Birth, Marriage, Death & Parish Records.
  7. ^ Sunday Independent, 20 July 2008.
  8. ^ Cleo Laine, Cleo (Simon and Schuster, 1997)
  9. ^ Maureen Paton, "Cleo Laine's daughter puts her troubled childhood behind her: 'Dad's death has finally mellowed my mum'", Daily Mail, 26 August 2011.
  10. ^ a b Cleo Laine Biography, Quarternotes.
  11. ^ William Ruhlmann, AllMusic Review.
  12. ^ Garlen, Jennifer C.; Graham, Anissa M. (2009). Kermit Culture: Critical Perspectives on Jim Henson's Muppets. McFarland & Company. p. 218.  
  13. ^ Jessica Nicholas, "Cleo Laine" (review, Hamer Hall, March 18), The Age.
  14. ^ Richard Dyer, The Boston Globe, "Cleo Laine Takes Readers Through Her Full Life", Chicago Tribune, June 13, 1997.
  15. ^

External links

  • Official website
  • Cleo Laine as "Colette" (1980)
  • Cleo Laine at the Internet Movie Database
  • Cleo Laine at the Internet Broadway Database
  • Cleo Laine at the Internet Off-Broadway Database
  • Record label
  • Radio interview with Nathan Morley from April 2010. Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation
  • Clip of TV performance on YouTube
  • profile, 2 August 2007Daily Telegraph
  • (interview with Cleo Laine and Johnny Dankworth)Beethoven with a Bass Guitar? Fine!John Fordham, , The Guardian, 15 November 2007
  • This Is Your LifeCleo Laine's appearance on
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