Long before she publicly came out, singing star Ann Hampton Callaway spent decades supporting and performing with gay men’s choruses across the United States.
“Over the years, gay choruses have been a very important part of the community through the arts, bringing people together, uplifting people, creating awareness, bringing people of different backgrounds together through great shows, entertaining shows,” says Callaway, who Saturday night sings with the Gay Men’s Chorus of South Florida at Bailey Hall in Davie. “People who don’t know there are gay people in the world, when they see a show with a great gay chorus, they really get a wake-up call about how much fun the community is and how beautiful the community is.”
Music has long been a part of Callaway’s life. Her sister Liz is a well-known concert and Broadway singer. Ann’s current album is From Sassy to Divine: The Sarah Vaughan Project.
Never miss a local story.
Saturday’s two-act concert is Broadway themed, featuring hits from Funny Girl (Don’t Rain On My Parade), Company (Being Alive), Guys and Dolls (I’ve Never Been in Love Before) and Wicked (Defying Gravity), says Mark B. Kent, executive director of the Gay Men’s Chorus of South Florida.
“It’s going to be a nice musical journey for our audience,” Kent says.
Chorus members are “over the moon” being able to sing with Callaway, he says.
“We absolutely love Ann Hampton Callaway,” Kent says. “She’s got such a great style, and she’s such a great friend to the LGBT community. She’s an extraordinary performer. a wonderful artist.”
Callaway, 57, began her association with gay men’s choruses in the 1980s, during the early days of HIV.
“I wrote songs about coming out. I wrote songs about AIDS. I wrote songs about losing people and trying to hang on to some kind of love of them. I wrote a Christmas song called God Bless My Family for the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus,” she says.
Performing with the men has been “a very interesting tool,” she says.
“It can be very political at times. It can be very spiritual at times. It can just be fun at times. Sometimes it’s all of the above,” Callaway says, adding that these days “there’s a sense of joy we’re making headway, that marriage equality is making headway. But there’s so much more to be done.”
Callaway began publicly introducing her longtime partner, Kari Strand, about five years ago.
“We got married on Nov. 7, and two days after my [Davie] concert we’re having a big New York City wedding celebration. People are flying in from all over the world. We have 140 people from all walks of our lives, coming together to celebrate that,” she says. “It’s been a very important moment in my life to meet Kari. When you find your soul mate and you resonate with another human being at the level that we do, it turns the lights on the Christmas tree of who you are.”
Despite a busy concert schedule, Callaway finds time for all kinds of social activism. Last Sunday, she performed in New York City on Fran Drescher’s Cancer Schmancer Gay Pride Cruise around Manhattan, along with Broadway star Patti LuPone and Drescher’s gay ex-husband, Peter Marc Jacobson. Callaway, by the way, composed and sang the theme song to Drescher’s hit 1990s TV series, The Nanny.
Despite her activism, Callaway these days puts herself and Strand first.
“I try not to live my life wanting to please everyone. When I was younger, that was more of an issue. You know, life is short and I want to live my life and be who I am,” Callaway says. “The thing that made my story more complicated is being bisexual. I feel still an allegiance, a part of myself is very attracted to men. I don’t have relationships with men anymore, but that was a part of me.”
Callaway recently decided to come out as bisexual rather than be known as a lesbian.
Many people — straight, gay and lesbian — still know little about bisexuality, she says.
“When you have more fluidity, which I think women can sometimes have more so than men, it can be a little confusing personally and a little bit confusing to other people. That was one of the reasons I didn’t want to get into it all,” she says. “Then the politics of it became much more important to me, and I really felt like, ‘OK, it’s really time — no more holding back at all.’ I’m glad I made that choice.”
She’s even thinking about writing a Broadway musical in which bisexuality “might be an issue that will come into play in the show,” Callaway says.
One thing she wants people to know: She and Strand are together for the long haul, in a monogamous relationship.
“I can be incredibly attracted to a man, and I had lots of fun with men through the years, but I don’t fall in love with men,” Callaway says. “I love men as friends. I love them in bed, but I don’t fall in love with them.”