Diana Ross’ backing singer - who almost died and lost her voice - is now vocal coach for Idris Elba & Sting

CeCe Sammy Lightfoot started out her career as a singer for Diana Ross, and now coaches artists like One Direction and Leona Lewis.

CeCe Sammy Lightfoot knows how powerful a voice can be.

The 44-year-old started her career as a backing singer for Diana Ross, and is now a vocal coach for celebrities such as Idris Elba, Sting and Leona Lewis.

However she only realised how important vocal coaches were, when she almost lost her own.

When CeCe was pregnant with her daughter Isabella, she suffered a brain aneurysm and almost died.

The doctors told her family that she would likely be paralysed and unable to walk or talk again.

She was forced to relearn singing and speaking from the begining, which led her to start vocal coaching after she recovered.

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CeCe Sammy Lightfoot

And since then as well as Sting and Leona Lewis, she’s coached One Direction and worked on the Voice and the X Factor.

She said: “It’s about how we speak and how we communicate to people.

“After having a brain aneurysm and having to recover my own voice after being a vocal coach for years, I’m a firm believer that everyone needs to have a vocal coach.

“I think it’s important because when we speak it has everything to do with exercises that we are reminded of as well as developing.”

CeCe, who now lives in Belsize Park, in Camden, studied at the College of Music in London to fuel her obsession with classical music - particularly the American pianist Liberace.

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Her career started at just age 17, when she became a backing singer for Diana Ross - someone she says treated her with lots of respect.

CeCe also said the Supremes singer was the “nicest person” she has ever met.

CeCe Sammy Lightfoot

The 44-year-old, who was also a backing singer for Julio Iglesias, has sung at Buckingham Palace and the Commonwealth Games.

Her skills have also been used behind the scenes on popular TV shows like The Voice, X Factor and American Idol.

Now, CeCe’s main goal is to teach singers and performers not to limit themselves.

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She said: “When we speak in western society, we are either speaking from the hard palate at the front of the mouth or from the back of the mouth.

“Many people will only speak from one place or the other.

“And what I teach people is that don’t try to limit yourself or put yourself in a box.

“It’s about seeing the power of the voice that you have, we are all aurators.”

CeCe Sammy Lightfoot

CeCe is this year’s official Voice Coach for TEDxSoho - supporting and coaching the speakers, whilst also providing behind the scenes prep exercises.

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She’ll be supporting all speakers from across business, innovation and creative industries including actor Michael Sheen, singer Tom Odell, art historian Aindrea Emelife, Variety international editor Manori Ravindran and more.

Recently she has launched her own, free, online masterclass, Hack Your Voice.

This supports those going through the interview process, auditioning for stage and sound, and how best to exploit the voice.

During the class, she shares some of the key lessons she has learned as a professional vocal coach.

Here are CeCe’s top tips to maximise your voice:

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  1. Focus on your posture allowing your freedom for your voice: Pretend there is a string going from the base of your spine through the top of your head that is pulling up. Be aware of this string and how tall it is. If you start slouching, the string will become very floppy but you need to keep it tight. By imagining this, it may help you to keep your posture upright and tall which in turn will help your voice sound confident, despite the nerves.
  2. Controlling the voice in a heightened pressured state: Find the middle range of your voice by doing “the descent exercise”. A “descent exercise” would help to feel how the high voice could naturally transfer into the chest area. This “chest area” voice will help the person to speak clearly and not to speak too fast or too high.  It would project a greater sense of calm and control.
  3. Make your entrance: Film yourself and looking back at how you walked into the room. As you look at what you have filmed, look at your shoulders to see if you are slouching and remember to smile.
  4. Your interview is a performance, fine tune the key deliverables: As you film yourself, say in 1 sentence “who you are”, “what you do”, and “why you are good for this job”. Do not get distracted. Those are your key points. It is also very helpful to create an “edited” version of what you will say in an interview.  I would not suggest scripting what you want to say as that can sound unnatural and prevent you expressing your personality, but it is helpful to be clear in advance about the key points you want to convey.
  5. Embrace you, project the best version of yourself: In your interview, you need the interviewer to remember you above the other people that have been seen.  The impression you want to leave with an interviewer is going to depend on the role you are going for. But some things remain the same whatever that role may be. You want to show the best version of yourself - be authentic, project confidence and competence.