Cleo Laine
Laine in 1997
Laine in 1997
Background information
Birth nameClementine Dinah Hitching
Born (1927-10-28) 28 October 1927 (age 96)
Southall, Middlesex, England
  • Jazz
  • pop
  • Singer
  • actress
George Langridge
(m. 1946; div. 1957)
(m. 1958; died 2010)

Dame Cleo Laine, Lady Dankworth DBE (born Clementine Dinah Hitching; 28 October 1927) is an English singer and actress known for her scat singing. She is the widow of jazz composer and musician Sir John Dankworth and the mother of bassist Alec Dankworth and singer Jacqui Dankworth.

Early life

Laine was born Clementine Dinah Hitching on 28 October 1927, in Southall, Middlesex (now London),[1][2][3] to Alexander Sylvan Campbell, a Jamaican[4] who worked as a building labourer[5] and regularly busked,[6] and Minnie Bullock, an English farmer's daughter from Swindon, Wiltshire, whose maiden name was reportedly Hitching.[4]

The family moved constantly, but most of Laine's childhood was spent in Southall. 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, owing to her parents not being married at the time and her mother registering her under her own name (Hitching).[4]

In 1946, Laine married George Langridge, a roof tiler, with whom she had a son, Stuart. The couple divorced in 1957.[7][8]


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[5] before going to work as an apprentice hairdresser, a hat-trimmer, a librarian, and in a pawnbroker's shop.[4]


Cleo Laine (1962)

Laine auditioned successfully, at the age of 24, for John Dankworth's small group, the Johnny Dankworth Seven. Laine later played with his big bands, Johnny Dankworth & His Orchestra as well as Johnny Dankworth & His New Radio Orchestra, with which she performed until 1958. Dankworth and Laine married that year.[5] She played the lead in Barry Reckord's Flesh to a Tiger at London's Royal Court Theatre, home of the new wave of playwrights of the 1950s such as John Osborne and Harold Pinter. The same year, she played the title role in The Barren One, Sylvia Wynter's adaptation of Federico García Lorca's Yerma. 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 in Wendy Toye's production of Show Boat at the Adelphi Theatre in London in 1971.[9] Show Boat had its longest run to date in that London season with 910 performances staged.[10]

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.[11] It eventually hosted over 350 concerts per year.[12]

Laine's international activities began in 1972, with a successful first tour of Australia, where she released six top-100 albums throughout the 1970s.[13] 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.[14] 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.[15]

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.[16]

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.[17] In May 1992, Laine appeared with Frank Sinatra for a week of concerts at the Royal Albert Hall in London.[18]

Laine performing at Playa Vista, Los Angeles, in 2007

Derek Jewel of the Sunday Times dubbed her "quite simply the best singer in the world."[19]

Awards and honours



  1. ^ "Cleo Laine - National Portrait Gallery". Retrieved 22 November 2022.
  2. ^ "Dame Cleo Laine". Black History Month 2023. 14 February 2008. Retrieved 8 February 2023.
  3. ^ "Cleo Laine | Biography, Music, & Facts". Britannica. Retrieved 8 February 2023.
  4. ^ a b c d Church, Michael (1 January 1995). "Caribbean Cleo — the Amazing Cleo Laine". Caribbean Beat Magazine. Retrieved 8 February 2023.
  5. ^ a b c "Passed/Failed CLEO LAINE". The Independent. 10 June 1998. Retrieved 8 February 2023.
  6. ^ Wendt, Jana (17 April 2005). "Cleo Laine: First lady of song". ninemsn. Archived from the original on 13 May 2014. Retrieved 9 May 2014.
  7. ^ Sunday Independent, 20 July 2008.
  8. ^ Cleo Laine, Cleo (Simon and Schuster, 1997, ISBN 978-0684837628).
  9. ^ a b Cleo Laine Biography, Quarternotes.
  10. ^ William Ruhlmann, AllMusic Review, allmusic.com. Accessed 22 November 2022.
  11. ^ "History of the Stables Theatre". Retrieved 22 November 2022.
  12. ^ "Sir John Dankworth & Dame Cleo Laine: Founders of The Stables". stables.org. 23 June 2022. Retrieved 22 November 2022.
  13. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 172. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  14. ^ Garlen, Jennifer C.; Graham, Anissa M. (2009). Kermit Culture: Critical Perspectives on Jim Henson's Muppets. McFarland & Company. p. 218. ISBN 978-0786442591.
  15. ^ Nicholas, Jessica (21 March 2005), "Cleo Laine | Hamer Hall, March 18" (review), The Age.
  16. ^ "Cleo Laine". Grammy Awards. Recording Academy. Retrieved 1 July 2022.. See under 18th Annual GRAMMY Awards.
  17. ^ Dan Sullivan. "Stage Review: Happily Ever After... The Sequel", Los Angeles Times, 13 January 1989.
  18. ^ Dyer, Richard (13 June 1997), The Boston Globe, "Cleo Laine Takes Readers Through Her Full Life", Chicago Tribune.
  19. ^ Kernis, Mark (6 October 1978), "Two Strong Voices, Two Kinds of Songs", The Washington Post. Accessed 22 November 2022.
  20. ^ Gumble, Daniel (4 October 2016). "BASCA Gold Badge Award winners revealed". Music Week.
  21. ^ "Don Lane set to join strange lanes of Adelaide". ABC News. 13 April 2010.