published Thursday, August 9th, 2012

Curtain Call: Singer Neshawn Calloway a standards bearer

  • photo
    Vocal teacher Neshawn Calloway performs jazz and blues standards at private parties and special events.
    Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

NESHAWN CALLOWAY

Hometown: Olive Branch, Miss.

Age: 45.

Education: University of Memphis and UTC.

Vocation: Vocal music instructor at Center for the Creative Arts.

Favorite books: "God Don't Like Ugly" and "Battlefield of the Mind."

Favorite performer: Anita Baker.

Favorite song: "Been So Long."

Favorite quote: "You can be pitiful or powerful, but you can't be both." -- Joyce Meyer

IF YOU GO

What: Neshawn Calloway presents "Bessie and the Blues: From Big Nine to Broadway."

When: 7 p.m. Friday.

Where: Mountain Arts Community Center, 809 Kentucky Ave., Signal Mountain.

Admission: $12 in advance, $15 at door.

Phone: 886-1959.

When it comes to music, Neshawn Calloway has always felt like she was born a couple of decades too late.

As a high school voice teacher, she covers all manner of musical styles, but she's always had a real affinity for the classic crooners like Sarah Vaughan.

"I just love the whole ease with which she sings," Calloway said. "The tones, the colors and the mellowness and how the songs talk about love. There is a magical appeal to the standards as far as love is concerned.

"I feel like I was born in the wrong era, I guess."

Calloway has built a name for herself by putting together shows that feature some of the classics in jazz and blues. She's performed at Nightfall and with the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera at the Tivoli and at Riverbend.

She sang a sampling of jazz standards with the CSO Pops Orchestra at this year's festival.

"We did 'At Last,' 'Stormy Weather' and 'Our Love Is Here To Stay,' " she said. "I love that particular style."

Calloway moved here in 1994 to get an advanced degree in music from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. As part of her studies, she interned at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center and helped put together a Bessie display. From that experience, she created a show celebrating the Empress of the Blues and will be presenting it Friday night at 7 at the Mountain Arts Community Center on Signal Mountain.

"I didn't even know who she was until I moved here," Calloway said. "Part of the assignment was to learn about her, and I had to write these blurbs that appear under the pictures. I became intrigued."

During one of her trips home to Mississippi, Calloway visited the Clarksdale hospital where Smith died after a car accident in 1937 at age 43.

"I interviewed the woman who bought the hospital and turned it into a bed-and-breakfast," Calloway said. "She saw Bessie perform, so that was interesting."

Calloway primarily performs at private affairs and special events. She has done the Bessie show enough now that "if someone called and asked if I could do it next week, I could."

She has even taken her show on the road. "I traveled to Hamm, Germany in May with a group that is part of the Sister Cities program," she said. "I performed as a part of a 35-year celebration of our sister-city relationship.

"The concert was in the castle of Oberwerries that was completely sold out. I performed a set of jazz standards, and then I did my tribute to Bessie Smith. I also did a short performance during our visit to Wolfsburg for the mayor and some other city officials."

Calloway is working on putting together a CD of Bessie Smith material.

about Barry Courter...

Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...

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