Passed/Failed CLEO LAINE

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The Independent Online
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.