Cleo Laine caricature 2012
October 28, 2012 - Cleo Laine, one of the world’s top jazz vocalists, celebrates her 85th birthday by attending a celebratory concert at The Stables, the theatre she established with her late husband, John Dankworth, more than 40 years ago. Noted for her scat singing and more than three-octave vocal range, she is the only female performer to have received Grammy nominations in jazz, popular and classical music categories.
She is the surviving partner of one the most enduring and celebrated pairings in the history of modern jazz. For more than half a century they were, in her words, "joined at the hip", his virtuosity on the saxophone and clarinet, matched by her exceptional vocal range and interpretation. Together, Cleo Laine and her husband, John Dankworth, sold out venues from Carnegie Hall to Ronnie Scott's, before creating their own theatre, The Stables, from a group of outbuildings in the grounds of their home near Milton Keynes, some 45 miles north-west of London. It was here, at a concert to mark The Stables' 40th anniversary in February 2010, that Laine announced the death of her husband of 52 years, earlier that day in hospital. The couple's son, Alec -- a bass player in his parents' band -- and daughter Jacqui, also a jazz singer and composer, had supported their mother in her decision to go ahead with the planned programme, keeping back the news of Dankworth's passing until the end of the evening. Laine will be back at the same venue on her birthday, which coincides with a monthly "Live Jazz Matters" event. Among those scheduled to perform is the singer's granddaughter, Emily.
Influenced by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Lena Horne, Laine grew up in Southall, west London, the daughter of a Jamaican father and an English mother who encouraged her singing and dancing from childhood. But she married young and had a son, Stuart, by the time she started singing professionally in her mid-twenties, auditioning successfully for the Johnny Dankworth Seven, already one of Britain's most popular jazz bands. She divorced her first husband, George Langridge, in 1957, marrying Dankworth the following year. Her career has encompassed musical theatre, with notable performances in the UK and the United States in Stephen Sondheim's musicals, A Little Night Music and Into the Woods. She has sung live with Sinatra, made an album with Ray Charles and collaborated with musicians including flautist James Galway and guitarist John Williams, Laine writing lyrics for the theme Cavatina, which Williams had recorded and which later found fame as the soundtrack to the 1978 film The Deer Hunter.
Laine was awarded an OBE for services to music in 1979 and made a Dame Commander in 1997. She remains the only female performer to have been nominated for a Grammy in the three separate categories of jazz, popular and classical music. Her 1985 win for the Best Jazz Vocal Performance by a woman prompted Fitzgerald -- by then her friend of two decades -- to send a bouquet of roses with the accompanying message: "Congratulations, gal -- it's about time!" Laine's 1989 album, Woman to Woman, one of more than 100 she has released since her debut recording in 1950, was awarded "five stars out of a possible four" by the U.S. magazine Jazz Times.