You can’t duplicate a live show. But Ann Hampton Callaway has found since the shutdown in March due to the coronavirus pandemic that she still connects with her audience even if it is over a computer screen.
“When I'm doing Zoom concerts for small groups of people, I see their faces,” Callaway says. “I had a concert in Buenos Aires for four people. The daughters and the father and the mother, and I saw the father cry tears after I sang My Funny Valentine and reach for his wife's hand. And, he saw me get teary as I sang the song and nobody in a club is going to be that close to me to see every spot and every expression on my face, the way they're seeing me as I sit at the piano and share these songs.”
Back in February, Callaway saw the news from China about a new, potentially deadly virus, and realized it could change everything very quickly. She created the livestream concert series, “The Callaway Hideaway”, which is held the last Sunday of every month. She also started Dial-A-Diva offering personalized songs, workshops, and live stream house concerts.
“I'm working twice as hard to make a quarter of the money,” she says. “Thank God I had that foresight and thank God I had the wherewithal to start to create a technical situation where I could broadcast out of my living room and reach lots of people.”
Callaway has been a performing mainstay in the Coachella Valley for two decades, and she will hope to connect again when she sings Oct. 3 on NBC Palm Springs during a televised fundraiser by The Joslyn Center in Palm Desert.
Callaway took time to chat with Palm Springs Life about the her connection to the desert and the power of music during a pandemic.
How have you been navigating the pandemic?
As a singer, I've just been trying to cheer people up by creating videos and writing songs and poems. I write a poem a day since the start of the year. That's sort of my new year's resolution and what better year than 2020 to chronicle the ups and downs and issues that we faced. So, in that way, as a writer, it's been a great time for me to be writing and synching and sharing my thoughts. People seem to really respond to them. So, that's been one of the silver linings.
Has Zoom been able to duplicate some aspects of a live show?
One of the things I did with "The Callaway Hideaway", which was my monthly live stream series, is I've kept it to be a Zoom performance. And one of the reasons I did that is because people seem to like to see each other in the little windows, they like to applaud, they like to hear each other applaud. And so there was this sense of going to a show and that there's seeing people you know and love, and it feels like an occasion. So instead of the perfect, better sound and better visual, I've chosen something more personal.
"...music is so humanizing. It's like instead of the bad headlines of the news, it's the good headlines of the heart."
— Ann Hampton Callaway
Can you, in some ways, reveal another side of yourself?
In some ways, it's a new kind of intimacy and there's a new kind of simple. This is my home, I'm sharing something really personal. It's not like Ann Hampton Callaway, the diva, who's arrived. It's a no nonsense, no bullshit. "Hey, this is me. This is you. We're hearing this together," kind of feeling, which is very reassuring to both me and, I think, my listeners and viewers, but, on the other hand, I miss having beautiful lighting. And I think even though I spent a lot of money on lighting and sound equipment, et cetera, there's nothing like singing in a fabulous concert hall with a symphony orchestra or a great band and all the the delicious sound you hear. Where if sometimes at some of these virtual shows, I'm recording a 90-minute show in one take with no applause, nobody seeing it, and I see my image, but I don't want to look at me.
During tough times like this, do you think music helps us and how does it help you?
Oh, music is an incredibly powerful, spiritual force. Sometimes I think that music holds this world together. It's got a vibrational power that nobody could quite understand. It is the universal language as cliché as that may sound. And in a time when people's political differences and the kind of chaos that we find ourselves in and the uncertainty we find ourselves in, music is so humanizing. It's like instead of the bad headlines of the news, it's the good headlines of the heart.
It helps us to celebrate what's good in life and helps us to collectively mourn what's been difficult about life. And, as a songwriter, to be able to address feelings and very specific issues that we're facing in a very loving way, I mean, I have so many friends that just say I'm helping them get through this time. And that's my mission. I'm an artist. Whenever there's any time of struggle, I immediately get to work. Sort of a healing priestess diva. I feel like, "What can I do to tell the story, to help people keep their hope?" When I put out my single of Carry On, I wanted to uplift people's spirits and the music has that power. People could be going through tremendous depression and feeling alone, don't have anyone when they're stuck in their apartment in lockdown. Suddenly music warms your heart. It's like a warm hand. It's the hug that you can't get any other way in a certain way.
How have you been able to preserve your voice over your career?
My mom was a singer, pianist and a voice teacher. So I learned a lot from hearing her voice lessons. She didn't really teach me per se, but I learned a lot by her example. And I watched her, since I was a baby, how she sang, how she took care of her voice, and she was classically trained. Then, I studied classically thinking that maybe I'd have a classical career, so I had really intricate technique taught to me.
By the time I was 16 years old, I started very good vocal habits. I was doing great until two or three years ago, I think it was, I got sick and I had to do 10 shows at Birdland Jazz Club (in NYC) celebrating Ella Fitzgerald's Centennial. I had to be on vocal silence for two months. And I never really got my voice back until about a year later.
How did you end up picking as you described this jazz pop type of sound?
I grew up with so many kinds of wonderful music. My mom loved classical and show tunes. And my dad was a huge jazz lover, and then while I was loving all of that music, then suddenly, I was never a real rock and roll lover, but I loved singer-songwriters. And so when I fell in love with Joni Mitchell and James Taylor and Carole King, that was like, "Oh, this was a part of who I am." So I sort of wedded Ella Fitzgerald with Barbara Streisand with Joni Mitchell with Carole King and with Stevie Wonder and all of these different parts of music that I love, including even classical music. So that when I do a show and sometimes it's kind of like a variety show because I have so many facets to my musical vocabulary and to my sense of style. But the main thing that keeps all of those different facets together is that I am a storyteller. And when I sing a song, I'm singing it as if I'm feeling it in that moment and singing it in that moment, and I don't know what's going to happen next. And so, as a communicator, that's the main circle around the various threads of the rainbow that is my musical identity.
How did this gig with The Joslyn Center happen?
I've been doing galas around the country to help people out with their causes, and everybody who's got a gala and what are they going to do? They're going to need to do a virtual gala. And so I guess the word got out to (promoter) Frank Goldstein that I was doing this, he reached out to me, and I told him what I had been doing before. And he thought that sounded good. So we chose some songs together, and then I recorded my videos. It's sounds like a vibrant community for seniors, and so I'm happy to be a part of that.
For more information on The Joslyn Center, visit joslyncenter.org.
For more information on Ann Hampton Callaway, visit annhamptoncallaway.com.
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