In praise of… Sir John and Lady Dankworth

Editorial: The couple's tale represents the journey of jazz from the musical margins to the mainstream

In the distant days when the Sir and Lady tags were first applied to musician Johnny Dankworth and his wife, the singer Cleo Laine, the intention was ironic. Sure, the pair were the first family of postwar British jazz, but that boho scene was no place for picking up honorifics. As young John discovered at the Royal Academy, even the most musical element of the elite thought jazz an eccentricity. But spool forward five decades from the couple's 1958 wedding and the pair jointly boasted a clutch of honorary degrees, a CBE, an OBE and then ultimately a knight- and damehood – Cleo first claiming the latter in her own right, before belatedly also becoming Lady Dankworth, when the royal sword kissed John's ageing shoulders. The couple's tale represents the journey of jazz from the musical margins to the mainstream; Johnny's steps on this march took him from 40s gigs with Charlie Parker into the 1950s hit parade and on into homes and cinemas nationwide, via his scoring of 60s favourites such as Tomorrow's World and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. News surrounding his death underlines the sheer character that earned him and Cleo their eminence. Last year 82-year-old Sir John blew a sax from a wheelchair, and on Saturday Cleo forged ahead with a show to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the venue they created together, before – in the last moments – informing an astonished audience that her husband had died hours before. As the Dankworths lived so they will die, with the melody lingering on.


The GuardianTramp

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