Passed/Failed CLEO LAINE

Dame Cleo Laine DBE, 70, is a jazz singer and actress. Her first professional

job was with John Dankworth, the bandleader and saxophonist, who became her husband.

They run young people's music classes at Wavendon, their

Buckinghamshire home. Albums include 'Shakespeare and All That Jazz',

'Live at Carnegie Hall' and 'The Very Best of Cleo Laine'. 'Cleo' is her

autobiography; 'You Can Sing if you Want To' was published last year.

Daddy, can you spare a dime? My father was a busker, though I wasn't aware of this (he was mostly a building labourer and kept boarding houses) until I went out with a young man who said: "I gave your father a penny the other day." He was a classy singer: light opera, Bing Crosby, songs of the day. The whole family was very musical. My music teacher was quite important to me at Featherstone Road Infants, in Southall, Middlesex, and my parents sent us to extra-curricular singing and dancing lessons, with the ambition that these might be the exit from poverty if we made it.

Laine discipline? At Featherstone school, the music teacher picked me out to sing as an example to the music class but I don't think it made me very popular. "Shenandoah" sticks in my mind; most of the music had American connotations. I hated junior school intensely. I played truant and was always in trouble. My hand got many a stroke from the head's cane.

Really Mellow? I went to Mellow Lane Senior School, in Hayes; I liked that very much. The other schools had been Victorian buildings with high windows, but this had windows you could look out of and see sky, trees and flowerbeds. There were a lot of arty things going on. I was Wall in A Midsummer Night's Dream. I remember being asked what I wanted to do and saying: "I want to go on the stage." Everybody laughed. I started work at the age of 14 at a hairdresser's. Really I was just a skivvy.

Over the Paper Moon? For parents and children, it was a matter of keeping your head above water. I had many other jobs: millinery, shoe repairs. I had a wonderful time in a bookshop which had a lending library; that was when I really started reading. In my spare time I went to auditions. Eventually, at 24, I passed my first audition - with the Johnny Dankworth Seven. I sang something like "Embraceable You", maybe "Paper Moon".

You got them no-exam, no-results, education blues? For me it's generally been the University of Life, but I do have an honorary degree from the Open University. I also have an honorary doctorate from York University, and from Berklee College, a famous music school in Boston where you sing for your degree and the money goes to a young singer's scholarship. I have in the main taught myself. My daughter went to the Guildhall School of Music but I have no regrets for myself. I do master classes all over the country. It is wonderful how traditional music schools have opened up; not all students are going to end up in classical music.

Nothing like a Dame? I'm in jazz, a very popular form of music. To a lot of minds, it is still in the world of the bordello; but it is time it moved on from the whorehouse. It's a down-to-earth music - and an intellectual music. It can't stand still. It has very many roles - and one of the roles is being a dame.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Management Trainer

£30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Exciting career opportunity to join East...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Scientist / Research Assistant

£18000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious start-up company b...

Reach Volunteering: Chair of Trustees

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Do you love the Engl...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game