I was in graduate school and living in a 4th floor walk-up in Philadelphia when I first heard her. 4 long flights of stairs climbed every day to get to the top apartment up on the hill at 44th and Spruce. Rent was $320. Three-bedroom apartment shared with two guys, both also in grad school. My room was furnished for under $100 spent at an estate auction out on the Main Line where the wealthy live in mansions. A beautiful large oriental rug I got for $25 that I couldn’t believe no one else bid on. My stereo sat on a lovely wooden plank raised from the floor by two milk crates. Tall ceilings, large windows, curtains I made myself, great acoustics.
My roommate Brooks and I sat on the rug and listened to music when we were done studying in the evenings. He brought Cleo’s Live at Carnegie Hall album over one night. We listened to the whole thing in silence and I in awe.
Dame Cleo Laine is a jazz singer with a greater than 3-octave range and the ability to produce a G above high C that is breathtaking.
She sang me through graduate school.
Then driving aimlessly across our country, looking for where I wanted to live, she kept me company on one of the best road trips ever. I put the top down of my MGB convertible and cranked the volume as loud as it would go. 3 months later when we drove up Highway 1 along the California coast, I knew I was zeroing in.
Since then she sang me through countless late evenings working, through love, despair, warm sunny afternoons, conversations that lasted till 4 in the morning, heartbreak, healing and hope.
I’m listening to her now as I write this. She is 91 years old tomorrow and still winning awards, still singing me through life.
Thank you, Dame Cleo, for singing me through all the dreams I’ve had since I first heard your voice so many decades ago. Your songs are my friends, your talent eternal.
May life give back to you as much as you have given.