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Ann Hampton Callaway with The Phoenix Symphony

One day Ann Hampton Callaway’s parents brought home 1963’s “The Barbra Streisand Album.” The youngster was quickly dazzled by the larger-than-life vocalist.

“She approached singing with such a gorgeous instrument and with such a passionate and sensual quality to her singing,” says Callaway, on the phone from her home in Westchester, N.Y. “She has such a great way of telling the story and inhabiting the story, as if it’s happening to her in that moment.”

Callaway never got over that early admiration for Streisand. Callaway grew up in Chicago and moved to Manhattan in 1979, eventually emerging as one of the city’s top cabaret performers. She displays an affinity for jazz and lush, romantic material, and tempers her performances with hilarious, quick-witted patter. Along the way she has recorded 10 solo albums that showcase her way with both standards and original material.

In her solo career, she’s often looked to Streisand for inspiration.

“She’s a great role model,” Callaway says. “She’s a real trailblazer. She made it because she was too good at being herself. If she had tried to fit in with the Beatles or whatever the hot thing was at the time, she wouldn’t have done as well.”

Callaway has channeled that love of Streisand into “The Streisand Songbook,” a show dedicated to the entertainer. She toyed with the idea for a few years before the Boston Pops heard about the concept and approached her about making it a reality. Initially, she balked.

“How was I going to do a show about a living legend as brilliant and amazing as Barbra Streisand?” says Callaway, 55. “At first, I just wasn’t interested. Then, maybe six months later, I realized I like a challenge and that it would make me a better singer.”

The show, which premiered in 2012, doesn’t involve Callaway mimicking Streisand. Instead, it focuses on songwriters who provided material for the diva, including Marilyn and Alan Bergman (“The Way We Were”), Jule Styne (“People”) and Stephen Sondheim (“Somewhere”).

Callaway set some parameters. She stayed away from Streisand’s stabs at recording rock material, so don’t expect to hear “Stoney End”: “I never understood the words to that song,” Callaway deadpans. “I have to understand what I’m singing.” Also missing are disco tunes and most of the mid ’70s stuff, save for the Oscar-winning “Evergreen,” penned by Streisand and Paul Williams.

“Generally, I do the non-perm career of Barbra Streisand,” Callaway jokes.

She also features tunes she has written that Streisand has recorded. Streisand cut Callaway’s “At the Same Time” on 1997’s “Higher Ground” and “I’ve Dreamed of You” on 1999’s “A Love Like Ours.” Streisand initially performed the latter tune at her 1998 wedding to James Brolin.

“What I wanted to do was paint a portrait of her career,” says Callaway, whose most-recognized composition is the theme tune to TV’s “The Nanny.” “She’s done such beautiful work. There’s film, theater, standards and my own songs. These are are all pieces I relate to.”

There’s another reason Callaway has always been drawn to Streisand. Even though she came of age in the ’70s, she never considered herself much a fan of rock music. Instead, she was drawn to the great vocalists, such as Streisand.

“I always felt like I was born at the wrong time,” Callaway says. “I hated a lot of rock and roll. It sounded like people were yelling. So I heard a lot of Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald, and then got into the Beatles and singer-songwriters like Carole King, but I’ve always loved gorgeous singing.”

And whose singing is more gorgeous than Streisand’s? Callaway has developed a friendship with her through the years, and even has written patter for some of Streisand’s concert appearances. The grande dame has also seen “The Streisand Songbook” and given her approval.

Even still, it is slightly unreal to Callaway.

“It is really an out-of-body experience to talk with her on the phone,” she says. “I’m not intimidated by almost anyone, but whenever I see her, I admit I’m a little nervous.”

Reach the reporter at or 602-444-8849.

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