Shirley Callaway, celebrated singer, pianist and one of New York’s leading voice teachers, passed away at 2:55 AM on September 14, 2017 after a valiant two month battle with pancreatic cancer. Born in Indianapolis on March 15, 1933 to William and Ann Wolff, it was soon clear that her talents in music would be the passion of her life. She grew up in McNabb, Illinois and was 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. In 1957, she married John Callaway, who later became a distinguished radio and TV journalist. They were married for 17 years and had two daughters, Ann Hampton Callaway and Liz Callaway, both Tony- nominated Broadway and concert artists.
In Shirley’s early years, as she became a devoted mother, she turned her talents to teaching. She taught nursery school at Temple Sholom in Chicago, music in West Babylon, NY and voice at New Trier East High School in Winnetka, IL. 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 under the direction of Sir George Solti and in Ravinia Park Summer Festivals with James Levine conducting. The ensemble recorded six albums and received several Grammy Awards: Beethoven’s Fidelio, Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, Brahms’ German Requiem, Mahler’s Symphonies Nos. 3 and 8 and Verdi’s Requiem. 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 eighties, 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. Tovah Feldshuh, Erich Bergen, Boyd Gaines and Cady Huffman are among the many well known performers 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 recent New York Cabaret Conventions. In her later years, she was a beloved presence on Facebook where she regularly posted the lyrics of great songwriters.
In addition to her daughters, Ann and Liz, she is survived by Ann’s wife, Kari Strand; Liz’s husband, Dan Foster; Liz’s son, Nicholas Callaway Foster; and Shirley’s brother, Bert Andersen.
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 Actor’s Fund.