Celebrating Streisand! A Conversation With Singer-Songwriter Ann Hampton Calloway As She Prepares To Bring THE STREISAND SONGBOOK To The McCallum Theatre 2/26
Platinum Award-winning singer-songwriter Ann Hampton Callaway celebrates the music of one of America's most powerful and enduring musical artists at The McCallum Theatre for one very special evening, February 26 at 8:00 pm. Singing timeless classics from five decades of Barbra Streisand's multi-faceted career, Callaway crafts a loving musical portrait of the icon. I had the opportunity to talk with Ms. Calloway about her life, her career and the current concert tour in her burgeoning "Legends" series, THE STREISAND SONGBOOK. Here are a few excerpts from that conversation.
DG: You have been described in your career by so many wonderful superlatives - including "arguably one of the greatest singers of all time". How would you describe yourself?
AHC: (She laughs). Who said that? How would I describe myself? I think of myself as a singer who has consistently grown into the person that I think I am capable of being - and I think there's more to go and, ah ... I defy genres. I defy description in certain ways. I'm really about telling the story through the songs. Entertaining the audience. Getting down to depths of emotion of these song moments. And I feel that I'm finally getting to do this is settings where I can shine the most. Symphony orchestras. Wonderful halls like The McCallum. And getting to work with people I have the greatest admiration for. And so. I feel extremely privileged to be living my dream and grateful every day to get to do what I love.
DG: Do you remember the very first time you sang in front of an audience?
AHC: Umm, yes. I remember I had a little solo in grade school. I believe in kindergarten and it was very exciting. I felt like "ooh, this is fun". And then I had a few lines in a brownie play in the fourth grade. That was the next thing, and that was thrilling. And then I had a lead in my sixth grade musical in Huntington Long Island and I was just ecstatic. It was clear to me that performing was where my heart found its greatest joy. And, you know, growing up with a mother who's a singer, pianist and a voice teacher, and a father who is a well known and highly revered journalist was an inspiring setting. And, of course, having an extremely talented sister - it was a very nice inspiration to grow up with.
DG: What was your first leading role in high school?
AHC: Well, the first leading role in high school - I was -- I played "Mame". At the age of sixteen. And I felt like I was "Mame". At first I wasn't going to audition because I thought the role was too low for my voice and I might hurt my instrument. I was a classically trained singer at the time. But, finally, when I did play "Mame" I thought - "wow, it doesn't get better than this. This is what I want to do with the rest of my life". It was a life-changing experience.
DG: What was the impetus behind doing an evening dedicated to The Streisand Songbook?
AHC: Well, you know, a few people had suggested I do it, and I was very reluctant to do it. And then I thought, in the back of my mind, maybe I should because I am someone who has a unique access to Barbra as a person, having written songs for her , having written patter for her, having spent time on the phone with her. Not that many people know Barbra and, as a singer who has learned so much from her and gotten to spend time with her and having some incredible writing experiences, it seemed like a wonderful opportunity to not only celebrate a person who I think is an extraordinary artist of our time, but also to challenge myself to find my own stamp on these songs. And, these are songs that demand the very greatest part of a singer. I mean, these are ... when I finish doing The Streisand Songbook with a symphony orchestra or with my jazz trio, I am emotionally spent. I have used every particle of my being to tell these stories and to put these songs across. It's a thrill and it's made me a better singer, I think.
DG: What can audiences expect from this show at The McCallum?
AHC: They can expect a very exciting, musically imaginative, fun and moving celebration of one of America's greatest artists.
DG: Tell me something unique about you that people wouldn't know at all by reading your resume.
AHC: Unique about me? I practice city yoga and I'm an extremely spiritual person. In my own mind - well, I guess this is a unique thing that people wouldn't know. When I'm singing for an audience I'm also singing for the entire world. I believe that many of these songs are blessings and so I literally, before I walk on stage, think about sending blessings out. When I sing the first song that Barbra ever recorded of mine, called " At The Same Time", I send out a world prayer, and I do a whole kind of spiritual visualization and so, during the instrumental, I'm sending beautiful thoughts out into the world to let the music be a blessing for peace. And, I think, because I'm a spiritual person and because I've really started to connect my spirituality with my music through the years it just makes for such wonderful energy, I think the audience feels the love and the intention behind it. They may not know what it is, but it really does feel like an exciting, thrilling moment to have that degree of intention. I also sing for people who have gone. Anytime anyone has lost a partner or lost their beloved one, family member, whomever - I have my little cloud of people I imagine. For example, I think of Marvin Hamlisch, whom I got to know, and whenever I sing "The Way We Were" I visualize him and I send love up to him and I truly feel a connection when I sing with those intentions. It's very powerful.
DG: Out of your many, many accomplishments, what would you consider to be one of your proudest or greatest moments?
AHC: Well, I guess having Streisand sing my songs has been one of my greatest thrills. These are ... she sings the writing of the finest writers of our time, so to be included in the list of those people is a tremendous honor. You know, when I started thinking about the fact that she wanted me to write the words to the melody that she fell in love with that ended up being her wedding song - she could have approached The Bergmans, she could have approached any number of people, and I'm deeply honored that she put her faith in me. It doesn't get much better than that.
DG: On the converse, what's something that you haven't yet accomplished that you one day hope to accomplish?
AHC: I haven't done a book role in a Broadway musical. And I think that would be a great challenge and a wonderful thrill and I think that the actress that has layed dormant in me for many years needs to come out and do her stuff. To play "Mama Rose" in Gypsy - I mean, that's a little more than I'd want to bite off in my first time out in a book show, but I do feel it would be a great challenge that I want to do. I also want to write a Broadway musical. I think that as a songwriter I would really like to write something special for the theatre. I think I have sort of an old fashioned melodic sense that might be resonant and yet I bring some new ideas lyrically. I think it would be a wonderful challenge and I could offer something worthwhile.
DG: What's in the pipeline for you next?
AHC: Well, we're releasing my live CD called The Sarah Vaughan Project this year - we have a few labels fighting over it - and I'm very excited about getting that CD out and touring that show. You know, it's very interesting as a singer to - I'm calling it my Legacy Series - to pay tribute to singers like Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee ... umm, who else ... I've done a show called Diva Power where I've paid tributes to all the many singers I love --- and now Barbra Streisand - and Sarah Vaughan is the latest show I've put together. I love -- I think because I'm the daughter of a journalist -- I love painting a portrait of somebody, It's combining my parents talents and unifying them in me, to express who I am by telling the story of an artist who has inspired me. I'm looking forward to touring that show around the world.
DG: SO, my final "traditional question" ... when all is said and done, how do you want to be remembered?
AHC: Umm ... (long pause) ... I would like to be remembered as an inspiring artist and human being who made a difference with her life.
And that she will. Ann Hampton Calloway performs The Streisand Songbook at The McCallum Theatre on February 26 at 8:00 pm. For tickets or further information, visit www.mccallumtheatre.com