Cleo Laine Laine was born in a London suburb to a Jamaican father and English mother who sent her to singing and dancing lessons at an early age. She did not take up singing seriously until her mid-twenties, however. She auditioned successfully for a band led by musician John Dankworth, with which she performed until 1958, when she and Dankworth married.
She then began her career as a singer and actress. She played the lead in a new play at London's famous Royal Court Theatre, home of the new wave of playwrights of the 1950s: Harold Pinter 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 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. In 1964 her Shakespeare and All that Jazz album with Dankworth 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 Laine's international activities, with a successful 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 TormÃ©, as well as Arnold Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire which won Laine a classical Grammy nomination.
Laine's relationship with the musical theatre, started in Britain, continued in the United States with starring performances in Sondheim's 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 Sondheim's Into the Woods.
In the 2006 New Years Honours list, her husband John Dankworth was made a knight bachelor, becoming Sir John Dankworth. As his wife, she is entitled to be known as "Lady Dankworth," however, she uses her own professional name.