Cleo Laine

Dame Cleo Laine DBE (born 28 October 1927) is an English jazz and pop singer and an actress, known 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.

Cleo Laine

Laine in 1997
Background information
Birth nameClementine Dinah Bullock
Born (1927-10-28) 28 October 1927
Uxbridge, Middlesex, England
GenresJazz, pop
Occupation(s)Singer, actress
Years active1950–present

Early life

Laine was born Clementine Dinah Bullock in Uxbridge, Middlesex,[2] to unmarried parents:[3] Alexander Sylvan Campbell, a black Jamaican who worked as a building labourer[4] and regularly busked,[5] and Minnie Bullock, a white English 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 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]


Laine did not take up singing professionally until her mid-twenties. Her early influences as a singer were Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Judy Garland and Lena Horne. She auditioned successfully, at the age of 24, 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[4] in secret at Hampstead Register Office. The only witnesses were the couple's friend, pianist Ken Moule, and Dankworth's arranger, David Lindup. The couple had two children, who are both successful musicians in their own right: Alec who lives in the US, and Jacqui, a British singer who has released a number of albums.[9]

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 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]

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 Kenneth MacMillan. In 1964 her Shakespeare and All that Jazz album with Dankworth was well received. 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.

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 US 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 James Galway, Nigel Kennedy, Julian Lloyd Webber and John Williams. Other important recordings during that time were duet albums with Ray Charles (Porgy and Bess) as well as Arnold Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire, for which she received a Grammy Award nomination.

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 Franz Lehár's The Merry Widow (Michigan Opera). In 1980 she starred in Colette, a musical by Dankworth. The show began 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 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 May 1992, Laine appeared with Frank Sinatra for a week of concerts at the Royal Albert Hall in London.[14]

By the late 1990s, Laine's 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 2000, she appeared as vocalist Gwen in the movie The Last of the Blonde Bombshells.

In the 1997 New Year's Honours list, Laine became a Dame Commander, and she was appointed Dame Cleo Laine DBE. 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.

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.

Laine is famed for not only her interpretative style, but also her almost-four-octave range and vocal adaptability. As well as hitting deep soulful notes, Laine's scatting and 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."[15]

Awards and honors


  • She's the Tops! (MGM, 1957)
  • Jazz Date with Tubby Hayes (Wing, 1961)
  • All About Me (Fontana, 1962)
  • Shakespeare and All That Jazz (Fontana, 1964)
  • Woman to Woman (Fontana, 1966)
  • Sir William Walton's Facade with Annie Ross (Fontana, 1967)
  • If We Lived on the Top of a Mountain (Fontana, 1968)
  • The Unbelievable (Fontana, 1968)
  • Soliloquy (Fontana, 1968)
  • Portrait (Philips, 1971)
  • Feel the Warm (Columbia, 1972)
  • An Evening with Cleo Laine & the John Dankworth Quartet (Philips, 1972)
  • I Am a Song (RCA Victor, 1973)
  • Day by Day (Stanyan, 1973)
  • Cleo Laine Live!!! at Carnegie Hall (RCA Victor, 1974)
  • A Beautiful Thing (RCA Victor, 1974)
  • Sings Pierrot Lunaire (RCA Red Seal 1974)
  • Cleo Close Up (RCA Victor, 1974)
  • Spotlight On Cleo Laine (Philips, 1974)
  • Easy Livin (Stanyan, 1975)
  • Cleo Laine (MGM, 1975)
  • Best Friends with John Williams (RCA Victor, 1976)
  • Born on a Friday (RCA Victor, 1976)
  • Porgy & Bess with Ray Charles (RCA Victor, 1976)
  • At the Wavendon Festival (Black Lion, 1976)
  • A Lover and His Lass with Johnny Dankworth (Esquire, 1976)
  • Return to Carnegie (RCA Victor, 1977)
  • Cleo's Greatest Show Hits (RCA Victor, 1978)
  • Gonna Get Through (RCA Victor, 1978)
  • Cleo Laine Sings Word Songs (RCA Victor 1978)
  • Cleo Laine in Australia with Johnny Dankworth (World Record Club, 1978)
  • Cleo's Choice (Marble Arch, 1974)
  • Sometimes When We Touch with James Galway (RCA Red Seal 1980)
  • Cleo Laine in Concert (RCA Victor 1980)
  • One More Day (Sepia, 1981)
  • Smilin' Through with Dudley Moore (CBS, 1982)
  • Let the Music Take You with John Williams (CBS, 1983)
  • That Old Feeling (K West, 1984)
  • Cleo at Carnegie: The 10th Anniversary Concert (RCA Victor 1984)
  • At the Carnegie: Cleo Laine in Concert (Sierra, 1986)
  • The Unforgettable Cleo Laine (PRT, 1987)
  • Cleo Sings Sondheim with Jonathan Tunick (RCA Victor, 1988)
  • Woman to Woman (RCA Victor, 1989)
  • Jazz (RCA Victor, 1991)
  • Nothing without You with Mel Torme (Concord Jazz, 1992)
  • On the Town with Michael Tilson Thomas (Deutsche Grammophon, 1993)
  • Blue and Sentimental (RCA Victor, 1994)
  • Solitude with the Duke Ellington Orchestra (RCA Victor, 1995)
  • Quality Time (Sepia, 2002)
  • Loesser Genius with Laurie Holloway (Qnote, 2003)


  1. Pleasants, H. (1985) The Great American Popular Singers, Simon and Schuster
  2. "Clementine Bullock" in Birth, Marriage, Death & Parish Records.
  3. Michael Church, "Caribbean Cleo? The amazing Cleo Laine", Caribbean Beat, Issue 13, Spring 1995.
  4. Interview Jonathan Sale, "Passed/Failed CLEO LAINE", The Independent, 10 June 1998.
  5. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 13 May 2014. Retrieved 9 May 2014.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  6. "Clementina Campbell" in Birth, Marriage, Death & Parish Records.
  7. Sunday Independent, 20 July 2008.
  8. Cleo Laine, Cleo (Simon and Schuster, 1997, ISBN 978-0684837628).
  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. 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. ISBN 078644259X.
  13. Jessica Nicholas, "Cleo Laine | Hamer Hall, March 18" (review), The Age, 21 March 2005.
  14. Richard Dyer, The Boston Globe, "Cleo Laine Takes Readers Through Her Full Life", Chicago Tribune, 13 June 1997.
  15. Kernis, Mark, "Two Strong Voices, Two Kinds of Songs". Washington Post, October 6, 1978.
  16. "BASCA Gold Badge Award winners revealed".
  17. "Don Lane set to join strange lanes of Adelaide". ABC News. 13 April 2010.

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