NiteLifeExchange notes with sadness the September 14 passing of another artist who made remarkable contributions to the world of performance. Shirley Callaway, celebrated singer, pianist, one of New York’s leading voice teachers and mother to cabaret mainstays Ann Hampton Callaway and Liz Callaway, both also Tony-nominated performers. Mrs. Callaway had fought a valiant two-month battle with pancreatic cancer.
Born in Indianapolis on March 15, 1933 to William and Ann Wolff, her talents in music were evident early on. Growing up in McNabb, Illinois, she was also featured prominently in numerous concerts at Dana College in Blair, Nebraska. After graduating, she moved to Chicago and got a singing job with the Jan Garber Orchestra. She wed John Callaway in 1957, and he soon became a distinguished radio and TV journalist. They were married for 17 years.
In Shirley’s early years, as she became a devoted mother, she turned her talents to teaching: nursery school at Temple Sholom in Chicago, music in West Babylon, NY and voice at New Trier East High School in Winnetka, Illinois. After moving back to the Chicago area, she became a professional member of the Chicago Symphony Chorus for eight years, where she performed at Orchestra Hall and Carnegie Hall and under the direction of Sir George Solti and in Ravinia Park Summer Festivals conducted by James Levine. The ensemble recorded six albums and received several Grammy Awards, singing classical material: Verdi’s Requiem, Beethoven’s Fidelio and Missa Solemnis, Brahms’ German Requiem, Mahler’s Symphonies Nos. 3 and 8. She also made Chicago nightclub appearances at numerous clubs, including The Signature Room, The Ritz-Carlton, The Drake and The Palmer House.
In the early 1980s, after moving to New York City to be closer to her daughters, Shirley had a highly successful career as a voice teacher, helping Broadway, cabaret and jazz artists achieve their full potential as singers and performers. Boyd Gaines, Cady Huffman, Tovah Feldshuh and Erich Bergen are just some of the many well-known Broadway singer-actors she taught. Aside from technique, her emphasis was on “connecting emotionally to each song and finding the best way to tell the story through a deep connection to the lyrics.” She also continued to perform at private parties and was a featured singer at two New York Cabaret Conventions presented by the Mabel Mercer Foundation.
In her later years, she was a beloved presence on Facebook where regularly posted the lyrics of great songwriters. In addition to her daughters, Ann and Liz, she is survived by: her brother, Bert Anderson; Ann’s wife, Kari Strand; Liz’s husband, Dan Foster; and a grandson Nicholas Callaway Foster. A memorial service at Riverside Memorial Chapel will be announced soon. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to In God’s Love We Deliver and The Actors Fund.
Obituary information courtesy of daughter Ann Hampton Callaway.