Chris Calloway, 1945-2008: Jazz diva gracious in battle with cancer
Singer, bandleader knew 'show must go on'
Paul Weideman | The New Mexican
Santa Fe's reigning diva of the night, Chris Calloway, jazz singer and
daughter of famous Cotton Club bandleader Cab Calloway, died Thursday.
She was 62.
She had been battling breast cancer since 1987.
A Santa Fe resident since 1991, the vivacious vocalist sang with her
father's Hi-De-Ho Orchestra for two decades until his death in 1995.
She then became a bandleader in her own right, putting together a new
version of the band. In 2001, she took the group on a 55-city tour.
"The revised Hi-De-Ho Orchestra was made up of musicians she
collected," Santa Fe businessman Tom Berkes said Friday. He and singer
Madi Sato owned the Espiritu Canyon Road club where Calloway staged a
performance series in 1999.
"Just like they did with the Count Basie Orchestra, you'd hire good
musicians who were willing to travel," Berkes said, "so most of the
people in Chris' band were from New York and California."
Chris Calloway was born in Los Angeles on Sept. 21, 1945. She began
her career on television, performing with her father 30 years ago on
the Ed Sullivan Show.
In addition to touring widely, she went on to sing in a Broadway
production of Hello, Dolly! that starred Cab Calloway and Pearl
Bailey. She later portrayed jazz legend Billie Holiday in the Lanie
Robertson play Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill. Lady Day was
produced in Santa Fe by the New Mexico Repertory Theater in 1993 and
Santa Fe Stages in 1995.
In 2001, Santa Fe Stages produced Calloway's one-woman show, Clouds of
Joy: The Spiritual Journey of Blanche Calloway, about her Aunt
Blanche, who was a pioneering bandleader in the 1930s.
Among Calloway's activities during the 1990s was a two-year stint
singing at La Posada de Santa Fe Resort & Spa and the performance
series at Espiritu Canyon Road, which was captured on her compact disc
Live at Espiritu.
"She was the ultimate in terms of swing," said Sharon Shaheen, who
played the piano for the Calloway shows at La Posada and Espiritu.
"Her timing was just impeccable, and it was just the height of my
career to be playing with her. We had so much fun. She just took me
under her wing and trained me in the art of swing."
Calloway's most recent shows, performed with the Bert Dalton Trio,
featured material by her godmother, Lena Horne. Her last scheduled
date was at the New Mexico Jazz Festival on July 20, but she was too
weak to leave home.
"It's not about life or death at this point," the ailing singer had
told The New Mexican in a May 2007 interview. "It's about my spiritual
growth and my mission to understand and really embrace and appreciate
what life is about, what joie de vivre really is. I could be some
single mother in Darfur or Baghdad. To be living with breast cancer in
America, where I have access to some of the best medical treatment in
the world, is just not that bad on a scale of one to 10.
"Of course chemotherapy is not a walk in the park," Calloway
continued, "and when I found out the cancer had returned and that I
needed chemo, I just fell in a hump on the floor and it was, 'I'm
going to die. I'm going to die,' and a little angel voice said, 'And?'
" 'And? I have cancer and I have to have chemo and I'm going to die,'
and the angel said, 'Oh, little Chris, you're a blessed, beautiful,
magnificent manifestation of God. You're perfect, and of course you're
going to die. Life is a terminal disease. None of us gets out of this
alive, so the question is, my darling, how are you going to live?'"
She lived well, said those who knew her.
"She had that Calloway attitude, the show must go on, through it all,"
Dalton said. "She was very gracious, the way she conducted this
battle, and was very open on stage about it and about how much she
learned from this experience."
In addition to her father, Calloway was preceded in death by her son,
Rupert Osaze Dia Crosse. She is survived by her mother, Nuffie
Calloway; her sisters, Cecelia Lael Calloway and Cabella Calloway
Langsam; her grandchildren, Cabbie and Becca Crosse; her daughter-in-
law, Julie Crosse of Portland Ore., and many nephews.
Private services are planned. A public memorial is set for 3 p.m.
Sept. 7 at the Scottish Rite Masonic Center in Santa Fe. The family
said donations in her memory may be made to the New Mexico Cancer
Institute Foundation, 490-A West Zia Road, Santa Fe, NM 87505.
Sponsored by Ancestry