Joshua Barton: What was your earliest musical memory?
Ann Hampton Callaway: My earliest musical memory was sitting on my mother’s lap in our little Chicago apartment at the piano and she took my hands to show me how to play the piano. I remember feeling excited about playing music and I was probably two years old. My second memory was when my sister was brought home from the hospital and out came this Broadway voice! The pipes on that baby were so loud I remember thinking this was going to be an interesting experience living with this being! My dad also played a lot of Ella Fitzgerald and he’d sing scat around the apartment and we’d listen to all kinds of great music growing up. We were like the Von Trapp family of Chicago! I thought everybody’s dad could scat and their moms sang torch songs.
JB: Do you feel that your life as a singer is a calling?
AHC: I think everyone has a calling. When you’re born you’re given gifts and talents and a soul. So you ask yourself: What does the world need from you and what are you going to do with that? I love thinking of myself as a vessel and I’ve always loved singing and performing.
JB: In the soundtrack of your life, what would the opening score sound like?
AHC: The musical prelude of my life starts with the doctor not saying, ‘It’s a boy or a girl,’ instead he’d say ‘It’s a DIVA!’ followed by a song a dance [laughs] In the beginning of the musical that baby can’t sleep because she’s always thinking about life and the world and her parents so she sings about it.
JB: Today is the second anniversary of your public “coming out”. How would you say coming out has changed your career?
AHC: I don’t know how it has changed my career but it has changed my life. You know I’ve been out to so many people for a long time but that was my press outing. It wasn’t that I am simply gay. I’ve loved men and I’ve had wonderful lovers as men but I never fell in love with men. And then I found the love of my life, my partner Kari. I thought it was such a profound relationship that I wanted to shout it to the highest! I wanted to be able to share it. I have mentored so many people about being true to themselves and as I took a deeper look at what it means to be truly yourself I realized I had to widen that definition by being more upfront and outspoken about who I was. I am who I am and I have no apologies. So now when I perform the audience gets all of me and they feel the power of that and get excited.
JB: As a performer, how does the inspiration you get from jazz classics change with time and experience?
AHC: When I perform, I want to be as available to surprise and emotional honesty. I want to be as surprised as the audience. I have had a few moments where I was like, “Wow!”, I went to a place I didn’t know I had inside of me. The profound energy I receive in these moments are things I can never express. Music has this power and I feel this channel when I’m at my most awake emotionally. It’s always a tremendous surprise when you make that connection
JB: Have you ever come across a song that you couldn’t conquer?
AHC: For years I’ve stayed away from certain songs. There is a Judy Garland song I always think, “I can‘t wait to sing it!” Its “The Man That Got Away,” and it‘s a great song. I can sing it well but I haven‘t thought of a way to make it mine. I don‘t own it yet but maybe one day I‘ll find that one thing that makes it my song. It‘s a fun thing to take songs I haven‘t done and make it something that is so personal and so YOU that the audience forgets about everyone else who has sung it.
JB: Are you a Gleek?
AHC: Yes, I am a total Gleek! I would love to be on the show just so I could tell them, “Don’t breathe between syllables!” I think it’s a delightful show and its fun to see all the different ways it brings out different styles of music. I always look forward to the next episode.
JB: Do you think Glee will help inspire a new generation of jazz/standard singers??
AHC: Yes, much more so than American Idol. I see a show like Glee and I think they’re doing something special. They’re exposing different styles of music and showing what a song means through performing. I think it has been very inspirational to people because music is being taken out of schools and kids aren’t growing up with music anymore. They hear it in TV and movies but to not have the opportunity to sing as a child is a crime.
JB: You’ve written and performed several songs that were born out of tragedy (Katrina, 9/11, Indonesian Tsunami), why do you think we turn to music in the midst of so much turmoil and suffering?
AHC: I think that music is the bridge between heaven and earth and a bridge between everyone on Earth. Music opens people’s heart in an immediate way so when we’re gong through a hard time a song can wrap its arms around us and lift us up.
JB: A lot of your work revolves around the theme of love. Are love songs still important in a jaded world?
AHC: The more jaded the world is the more important they are. And not love songs that are slippery but love songs that are TRUE and where your heart feels and recognizes the love. I think we’re all born to love and born to experience a profound connection to another person. My job as an artist is to rekindle that feeling. When I perform the people in the audience are holding hands, they’re laughing, some are crying. They feel the joy of being alive and maybe they’ve taken someone for granted and hearing these timeless songs reminds them what is important. Music is the greatest reminder of why we are here.
Ann will be performing at Jazz at the Bistro March 30 through April 2. For ticket information visit
BY: JOSHUA BARTON