Ann Hampton Callaway: The Peggy Lee Century

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Ann Hampton Callaway

The Peggy Lee Century
The Green Room 42, NYC, January 12, 2020
Reviewed by Joel Benjamin

Ann Hampton Callaway
Photo: Michael Di Clemente

The vocal giant Ann Hampton Callaway appeared at The Green Room 42 in a tribute to her great inspiration, Peggy Lee. Lee was an incredible artist who enchanted previous generations and continues to do so because of singers like Callaway.

By filling her set with a series of poignant tidbits about Lee’s turbulent life, Callaway added depth to the songs. A sassy “Why Don’t You Do Right?” (Joseph “Kansas Joe” McCoy) was followed by a coolly torrid “Fever” (Eddie Cooley/Otis Blackwell).

Peggy Lee’s marriage to David Barbour was to end tragically, but they wrote a number of songs together, including “I Don’t Know Enough About You,” a tender love song that Callaway sang charmingly. (“Remember charm?” she interjected.)

She followed up with the wistful “The Folks Who Live on the Hill” (Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein) and segued into the upbeat mood-changer “Just One of Those Things” (Cole Porter).

Callaway described Lee’s extensive involvement in films including providing songs—collaborating with Sonny Burke—for Disney’s Lady and the Tramp from which she sang “He’s a Tramp,” an oddball doggy love song with delightful human overtones. “My Johnny” (Victor Young/Lee) from Johnny Guitar was a sweet love song with a twang.

Lee recorded the blues-tinged “Black Coffee” (Sonny Burke/Paul Francis Webster) on her very first LP. Callaway infused it with her own unique blues style.

Lee’s iconic “I’m a Woman” (Harry Akst/Grant Clarke/Lee) still resonates, especially when a powerhouse singer like Callaway gives it her all.  Then came “Is That All There Is?” (Leiber & Stoller), probably the most sardonic popular song ever written. If anyone had any doubt about that all they had to do is hear Callaway’s tart interpretation.

Callaway ended on a sweet note, a gentle salute to one of her favorite singers: “Angels on Your Pillow” (Paul Horner/Lee), pensive and sweet, and a very touching “I’ll Be Seeing You” (Sammy Fain/Irving Kahal).

Led by her longtime musical collaborator Ted Rosenthal, Callaway sang arrangements that didn’t mimic Lee’s iconic ones but commented wittily on them. Rosenthal’s excellent band members, who also soloed beautifully, were Dean Johnson on bass and Tim Horner on drums.

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Joel Benjamin

A native New Yorker, Joel was always fascinated by musical theater. Luckily, he was able to be a part of seven Broadway musicals before the age of 14, quitting to pursue a pre-med degree, which led no where except back to performing in the guise of directing a touring ballet troupe. Always interested in writing, he wrote a short play in high school that was actually performed, leading to a hiatus of nearly 40 years before he returned to writing as a reviewer. Writing for Cabaret Scenes has kept him in touch with world filled with brilliance.