Cleo Laine

Cleo Laine Biography

Singer, Film Actress, Film Actor/Film Actress, Television Actress, Actress, Television Personality (1927–)
Dame Cleo Laine is a Grammy Award-winning British jazz vocalist and stage actress. She was known as the "Queen of Jazz" in her singing prime.


Famed singer Cleo Laine was born on October 28, 1927, in Southall, Middlesex, England, to a Jamaican father and English mother. She was hired as a vocalist for the Johnny Dankworth Seven in 1951 and married Dankworth in 1958. Laine was a regular on the BBC satire That Was the Week That Was. For her service to the music industry, Laine received an Order of the British Empire in 1979. In 1985, she became the first British singer to win a Grammy Award for best female jazz vocalist.


Early Years

Famed singer and stage actress Cleo Laine was born Clementina Dinah Campbell on October 28, 1927, in Southall, Middlesex, England. Born to a Jamaican father and an English mother, Laine began taking vocal and dance lessons as a teenager, and dropped out of school at the age of 14 to begin her quest to find a singing career. In 1951, she joined the Johnny Dankworth Seven, a well-known jazz band, as their singer, and changed her name to the more stage-ready "Cleo Laine."

Singing and Acting

Cleo Laine sang with the Johnny Dankworth Seven for seven years, building quite a following along the way. Her most dedicated follower might have been Dankwork himself, as the two married in 1958—the same year that Laine took her first stage role, in Flesh to a Tiger. That year also marked the beginning of a friendship with Ella Fitzgerald, which would last a lifetime. Tiger led to other stage performances, including Valmouth (1959), A Time to Laugh (1962) and Showboat (1971).

By 1964, Laine had become a full-time solo performer, and her albums Shakespeare and All That Jazz and Live at the London Palladium made her a critical darling (the London Times even went so far as to dub her "the best singer in the world"). The 1970s, however, would really find Laine's star rising, as her 1972 New York concert—her first—brought the critics out in droves, and she debuted at Carnegie Hall in 1973. Her show at the famed New York venue was recorded and released as Live at Carnegie Hall, which earned Laine her first Grammy Award nomination.

Laine rounded out the 1970s with a wholly different kind of honor: In 1979, she received an Order of the British Empire from Queen Elizabeth II for her services to music, and in 1997, her status was elevated to dame commander of the British Empire.

The Ever-Evolving Talent

Two Carnegie follow-up albums soon appeared, Return to Carnegie and Cleo at Carnegie: The 10th Anniversary Concert, with the latter earning Laine the 1983 Grammy for best female jazz vocalist.

Laine also garnered more acting accolades during this time, including a Theater World Award and a Tony Award nomination for her work in the Broadway musical The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1985). In 1989, she was back in the spotlight with her critically acclaimed role as the witch in Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods, staged in Los Angeles, California, where, two years later, she would receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the U.S. recording industry.

Laine published her autobiography, Cleo, in 1994, and followed it three years later with You Can Sing If You Want To. She continued to perform with her husband of 52 years, Sir John Dankworth, until his death in 2010.

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