Cleo’s singing career began in the 1950s when she auditioned successfully for a band led by musician John Dankworth. She performed under his banner until 1958, when she and John were married. Then commenced an illustrious career as a singer and actress, in productions such as the musical Valmouth in 1959, the play A Time to Laugh in 1962, and eventually to her show-stopping portrayal of Julie in Showboat at the Adelphi Theatre in 1971. During this period she also had two spectacular recording successes.
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 USA and Canada soon followed, together with a succession of record albums and television appearances. After several nominations Cleo received a Grammy award, in recognition of the live recording of her 1983 Carnegie concert.
In the USA she continued in musical theatre. In 1985 she originated the role of Princess Puffer in the Broadway hit musical The Mystery of Edwin Drood, receiving 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 for Cleo by the US recording industry (1991).
Cleo was made a Dame of the British Empire (DBE) in the Queen’s 1997 Birthday Honours list.