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Biography

Born in a London suburb, Cleo showed early singing talent, which was nurtured by her Jamaican father and English mother who sent her to singing and dancing lessons. It was not, however, until she reached her mid-twenties that she applied herself seriously to singing. She auditioned successfully for a band led by musician John Dankworth, under whose banner she performed until 1958, in which year the two were married.

Then began an illustrious career as a singer and actress. In 1958 she played the lead in a new play at London's famous Royal Court Theatre, home of the new wave of playwrights of the 'fifties - Pinter, Osborne and the like. 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, and eventually to her show stopping Julie in the Wendy Toye production of "Showboat" at the Adelphi Theatre in London in 1971.

During this period she had two spectacular recording successes. "You'll Answer to Me" reached the British Top Ten at the precise time that Cleo was 'prima donna' in the 1961 Edinburgh Festival production of the Kurt Weill opera/ballet "The Seven Deadly Sins". In 1964 her "Shakespeare and All that Jazz" album received widespread critical acclaim, and to this day remains an important milestone in her identification with the more unusual aspects of a singer's repertoire.

1972 marked the start of Cleo's international activities, with a triumphant 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 U.S. and Canada soon followed, and with them a succession of record albums and television appearances. This led, after several nominations, to Cleo's first Grammy award, in recognition of the live recording of her 1983 Carnegie concert.

Other important recordings during that time were duet albums with Ray Charles ("Porgy and Bess") and Mel Tormé, as well as Arnold Schoenberg's "Pierrot Lunaire" which won Cleo a classical Grammy nomination.

Cleo's relationship with the musical theatre, started in Britain, continued in the United States with starring performances in "A Little Night Music" and "The Merry Widow" (Michigan Opera). In 1985 she originated the role of Princess Puffer in the Broadway hit musical "The Mystery of Edwin Drood", for which she received a Tony nomination, and in 1989 she received the Los Angeles critics' acclaim for her portrayal of the Witch in Stephen Sondheim's "Into the Woods". Los Angeles was also the scene of a Lifetime Achievement Award to Cleo by the US recording industry (1991).

In 1979 Cleo received an OBE from Her Majesty the Queen for services to music, and in the Queen's Birthday Honours List in June 1997 she was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire. She has also been awarded honorary doctorate degrees from Boston's Berklee College of Music in the United States and, in the United Kingdom from Cambridge University, the University of York, the Open University and the University of Luton. In 1998 the Worshipful Company of Musicians awarded her their Silver Medal for a Lifetime Contribution to British Jazz, and the British Jazz Awards have recognised her a number of times, including with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002.

She lives with her husband, John Dankworth in Wavendon, Buckinghamshire, where in 1969 they founded their first charity, The Wavendon Allmusic Plan, with the aim of helping people broaden their views about music through performance and musical education. In the converted stable block in the grounds of their home they established an arts centre that has since become internationally renowned. The Stables, Wavendon has been host to many world famous artistes, from Vladimir Ashkenazy to George Shearing, and some of today's top professional musicians and singers have benefited from its education projects in the early stages of their careers. With the aid of an Arts Council lottery grant the new Stables theatre, built adjacent to the original stable block, opened its doors in October 2000 and continues to provide performers, students and audience alike with a centre of musical excellence second to none. The organisation, administered by a board of honorary trustees that includes Dame Cleo and John Dankworth, currently produces an annual programme featuring nearly 200 concerts and 300 education sessions. Having realised their original vision, Dame Cleo and her husband decided in 1999 to set up a further charity. The Wavendon Foundation was formed with the objective of raising funds to benefit both individual young artistes in need of financial aid, and organisations seeking support for music education projects. A major activity of the trust is the annual Wavendon Garden Season, a programme of summer events staged under a purpose-built canopy in the Dankworths' garden.

Cleo continues to tour the world with her artistry, and this trend shows no sign of abating. Neither does the career of this unusual and superlative artist.

Cleo 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.

 

It is unlikely that there is a British musician better known for a wider range of musical activities. For many years now his name has been synonymous with the crossing of musical barriers. Indeed he started achieving quite surprising musical breakthroughs of this sort at a time when such events were rare occurrences.

Born in 1927, John Dankworth showed early proficiency on the clarinet and by the age of 17 had entered London's Royal Academy of Music. Benny Goodman was his first idol, but he soon became impressed by the work of the great Charlie Parker, and took up the saxophone as a result. He was voted Musician of the Year in Britain in 1949, the beginning of a succession of such honours, which included top composer, arranger and leader of both small and big bands, and was to continue unabated for the next fourteen years in Britain. Later the accolades took on different and often more international forms. During this period Dankworth's recording activities included two hit records, "Experiments with Mice" (1956) and "African Waltz" (1960).

In 1959 Dankworth's large jazz orchestra played several engagements in the United States, the first of countless such visits by its leader. The trip included a week-long concert season sharing the bill with the Duke Ellington Orchestra in its heyday.

Around this time John first began devoting his musical attentions to the film world. And so began a decade or so of dozens of movie scores, including "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning", "The Servant", "Morgan", "Accident" and "Modesty Blaise", working for directors like Karel Reisz, Peter Hall, John Schlesinger, Joseph Losey and Henry Hathaway.

During this time he also served as musical director for Nat "King" Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson, Sophie Tucker and many others. His composing career extended to the theatre, with commissions in Britain from the National Theatre and The Royal Shakespeare Company, as well as two musicals both involving his wife, singer Cleo Laine. Since then there has been an opera/ballet for Houston Ballet, several works for choir and orchestra, a set of symphonic variations for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, a piano concerto and a string quartet.

In 1985 Dankworth founded the London Symphony Orchestra's Summer Pops, with which he continued to be associated as Artistic Director until 1990. He has continued to conduct symphony orchestras throughout the world, including the majority of the great American and Canadian organisations, as well as in Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Holland and, of course, Great Britain.

John lives with his wife, Dame Cleo Laine, in Wavendon, Buckinghamshire, where in 1969 they founded their first charity, The Wavendon Allmusic Plan, with the aim of helping people broaden their views about music through performance and musical education. In the converted stable block in the grounds of their home they established an arts centre that has since become internationally renowned. The Stables, Wavendon has been host to many world famous artistes, from Vladimir Ashkenazy to George Shearing, and some of today's top professional musicians and singers have benefited from its education projects in the early stages of their careers. With the aid of an Arts Council lottery grant the new Stables theatre, built adjacent to the original stable block, opened its doors in October 2000 and continues to provide performers, students and audience alike with a centre of musical excellence second to none. The organisation, administered by a board of honorary trustees that includes John Dankworth and Cleo Laine, currently produces an annual programme featuring nearly 200 concerts and 300 education sessions. Having realised their original vision, John and Cleo decided in 1999 to set up a further charity. The Wavendon Foundation was formed with the objective of raising funds to benefit both individual young artistes in need of financial aid, and organisations seeking support for music education projects. A major activity of the trust is the annual Wavendon Garden Season, a programme of summer events staged under a purpose-built canopy in the Dankworths' garden.

John has been awarded honorary Doctorates by the University of Cambridge, the University of York and the Open University, and in the USA by Boston's Berklee College of Music. He is a fellow of the Royal Academy of Music, and an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Northern College of Music and Leeds College of Music. Elected a member of the Worshipful Company of Musicians, he received the Freedom of the City of London in 1994. He was also awarded the Company's Silver Medal for Lifetime Contribution to British Jazz, and has been honoured in the annual British Jazz Awards a number of times for his achievements in and services to British Jazz. His services to music have earned him a CBE and a Knighthood from Her Majesty the Queen.

John Dankworth continues to travel the world playing, conducting, composing - and continuing his untiring search for musical perfection.
 

 

   

 

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