Bringing two new shows to London this month, the accomplished singer, songwriter and actress, Ann Hampton Callaway, continues to share her extraordinary career and talents with new audiences. Best known for her expansive work in pop and jazz, Ann has a legacy in a wide variety of avenues; winning numerous awards along the way, including being Tony-nominated for her performance in the hit Broadway musical Swing!. Working with too many big names to mention, through film, theatre and music, her collaborations are aplenty, with over 50 recorded CDs to her name, and two more albums on the way.
Speaking about her work across the arts, Ann has given us a special insight into her professions and what's still to come.
Can you discuss a little about what your latest shows coming to London, Let’s Fall in Love, and Fever!: The Peggy Lee Century are about?
Let's Fall in Love, at The Pheasantry Sept 21-22 at 8pm, is a chic and romantic show on love with the 1st half consisting of songs from the 20s through the 40s and the 2nd half full of contemporary classics and the best of my original love songs. Tickets: https://www.pizzaexpresslive.com/whats-on/ann-hampton-callaway-lets-fall-in-love Fever!: The Peggy Lee Century at Pizza Express Jazz Club (Soho) Sept 25-26 at 8pm is my critically acclaimed celebration of the trailblazing woman who gave the world Fever, taking the audience through six decades of iconic songs from Peggy’s swinging Benny Goodman days through her hits from film and recordings that earned this iconic singer songwriter her powerhouse nickname, “The female Frank Sinatra". Peggy's granddaughter, Holly Foster Wells, is flying from LA to join me in a Q&A with the audience both nights and I will do a world premiere of a song I got to posthumously write with Peggy, thanks to Holly's discovery of an unpublished poem. Tickets: https://www.pizzaexpresslive.com/whats-on/ann-hampton-callaway-fever-the-peggy-lee-century
Being so multifaceted with your talents, is there a particular area that you particularly enjoy the most, and why?
I am happiest when I use all my talents together. I like to say that I marry my divorced parents’ talents when I perform shows that I have created, written, arranged, that includes songs I’ve composed and that allows me to act the lyrics that tell stories I relate to and to entertain, play piano and sing my heart out. My dad, John Callaway, was a legendary journalist and writer and my mom, Shirley Callaway, was a celebrated singer, pianist and voice teacher. There are many strands to the tapestry of my artistry and I love weaving them together with great love and care.
Can you explain a bit about your process of writing new music?
Usually, songs arise from an idea that turns into a lyric. The moment I get the words, music naturally comes from them, often in the cadence of conversation. But when I have the opportunity to write with a great lyricist like Alan Bergman, I have to present him a gorgeous melody and that is more challenging. The pandemic was a rich creative time for me- I wrote a poem a day from 2020 through 2022 and several of those poems became songs, some of which will be on my upcoming CD of original songs called Finding Beauty.
How has your own style or approach to a new project changed as your experience has grown?
I learn from each show I create. My AHC Legacy Series, which honors artists who have inspired me like Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, Linda Ronstadt and now Peggy Lee, demands that I stretch my talents in new directions to be able to do justice to material that is key to each of these artists. When I honor them, I don’t imitate them, but I step into the emotional landscapes that express who they are and that has vocally and emotionally stretched me past my limitations and given my life some great surprises. When I starred in Swing!, my director told me I was going to sing 'Blues in the Night' in the show, which at first I was very hesitant about. But when I finally committed to it and explored all its musical and emotional potential, it unleashed a high voltage blues singer, which to this day has served me in many of my performances. On the other hand, honoring Peggy Lee, is helping me to explore a less-is-more approach and that can be exquisite.
How does it feel when you hear your compositions sung by others?
Hearing my songs recorded by singers like Barbra Streisand, Carole King, Liza Minnelli, Patti LuPone, Donna McKechnie, Lillias White, Billy Stritch, Janis Seigel and more, is a thrill. I think of my songs as my babies- I want them to grow up and have a life in the world. These wonderful artists and others have brought my music to many beautiful places in their orbit.
What has been the most memorable moment of your career so far?
A major highlight was starring in the Broadway musical Swing!, getting a Tony nomination and winning the Theater World Award. Writing and singing the theme to Fran Drescher’s hit TV series The Nanny, which is still running all over the world, is a thrill. And having one of the greatest singers of all time, Barbra Streisand, include my original songs on seven of her recent CDs is a pinch-me joy.
What can be expected from your upcoming music?
I like to say, “Expect the unexpected.” You can see the same show twice and it will be fresh each time. I create shows with many highs and lows; a wide range of feelings and facets of life, and who I am. You will laugh, cry, think, reminisce, fall in love all over again, clap, snap your fingers and even, if you’re not too British, sing along. You will even help me write a song on the spot! What I love about singing for English audiences, is the sophistication and greater attention spans to nuance, wit and feeling. It will be a lovefest from me to my music lovers each night!
Enormous thanks to Ann for sharing a bit more on her incredible story. Wishing you all the best for the shows and beyond!
Additional thanks to Alice James for coordinating this interview.