Desert Island Jazz
Cleo Laine and Jacqui Dankworth (2010)

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(Photo by Pat Johnson)

Born just outside London, England, in the late 1920s, Cleo Laine, in the words to "Sweet Georgia Brown" knocks them dead when she comes to town, and has been doing so for over half a century.

Cleo began her career as a singer and actress in the 1950s, and in the 1971 London production of "Show Boat" at the Adelphi Theatre was a show-stopping Julie, one of the first genuinely mixed-race actresses to appear in a role the essence of which was her being, in fact, of mixed race.

Cleo's 50-year marriage to band-leader, composer, arranger and saxophonist John Dankworth produced not only many magical musical moments, but also two well-adjusted children, Alec and Jacqui, both of whom are professional musicians, Alec a bassist and Jacqui, like her mother, a singer.

It seems that Cleo's own voice has always been fluid and flexible with a range of several octaves, but as Cleo tells it (either the way it really was or else with modesty) she'd originally had difficulty in finding work as a singer (and auditioned for the John Dankworth Seven in high summer while wearing a borrowed fur coat because she "was a bit of a scruff"), and had "about a one-octave range … down in my boots". Be that as it may, Cleo's voice at 82 is still the envy of many half her age. She's the only female performer to have received Grammy nominations in all of the categories jazz, popular and classical.

Ever the complete package, Cleo has never stopped acting: in 1985 she was a Tony-nominated Princess Puffer in the Broadway hit musical "The Mystery of Edwin Drood", and four years later was acclaimed for her portrayal of the Witch in Steven Sondheim's "Into the Woods" (a show in the first London production of which, by coincidence, daughter Jacqui appeared).

In 1979, Cleo became an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to music, an honor, and 18 years later received a promotion, as it were, by two levels to become a Dame of the Order of the British Empire (DBE—the female counterpart of a knight).
Pick Artist Album Song Label
# 1 John Dankworth Jazz Matters Prologue and Fugue Qnote
# 2 Jacqui Dankworth Back to You Beppo Audacious
# 3 Charlie Wood Flutter and Wow What You Will Archer Records
# 4 Shirley Horn Here's to Life Come a Little Closer/Wild Is the Wind Verve
# 5 Lizz Wright Salt Open Your Eyes, You Can Fly Verve
# 6 Jacqui Dankworth It Happens Quietly The Man not yet commercially available
# 7 Cleo Laine and Jacqui Dankworth I Hear Music Over Hill, Over Dale Salvo
Book Cleo: Charles Dickens, Complete Works
Jacqui: A collection of poetry by Rumi
Luxury Item Cleo: A strong tent to keep things away
Jacqui: A cement mixer to build a swimming pool (Jacqui is afraid of sharks)
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