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Terry Callier put music career on hold to raise his only daughter

Terry Callier his daughter Sundiatcelebrate her graduatifrom Lincoln Park High School IN 1985. | COURTESY OF SUNDIATA CALLIER-DULLUM

Terry Callier and his daughter Sundiata celebrate her graduation from Lincoln Park High School IN 1985. | COURTESY OF SUNDIATA CALLIER-DULLUM

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Updated: December 3, 2012 6:16AM

Chicago musician Terry Callier had the deep soul of a folk singer and the free spirit of a jazz cat.

So his choice to end his career in 1981 to raise his only daughter, Sundiata, wasn’t a tough decision.

It came as natural as a blue morning.

Private services are Saturday in Roselle for Callier, who died Saturday in a Chicago hospital,after a battle with throat cancer. He was 67.

By 1981 Callier had recorded five acclaimed folk-jazz-soul albums and was a giant on the local folk scene. But he gave it up to raise his daughter.

You do not measure a man by Grammy awards and gold records alone.

Hillel Frankel was Callier’s U.S. manager and attorney since 1998. A 30-year music veteran, Frankel said Callier’s empowering decision was rare.

“People disappear for five years, especially women performers to raise kids,” Frankel said Wednesday. “What is unusual about Terry is that he stopped entirely. He quit playing. He didn’t have a cell phone until the very end. But when he came back, he came back with such ferocity.”

Sundiata “Sunny” Callier-Dullum 43, is a first-grade teacher at Goudy Elementary School, 5120 N. Winthrop. Her students are a product of Terry Callier’s sacrifice.

“He was the push behind me that I always needed,” Callier-Dullum said.

Her parents separated when she was 4, and she had settled with her mother in San Diego, Calif.

“When I was 12 I asked my Dad if I could come live with him,” Callier-Dullum recalled. “He was in Chicago. He met me at the airport. I knew he was a singer, but when you are a kid and your parent does something, it’s ‘How embarrassing.’ We lived with his mom at Grace and Broadway. He didn’t have a real job. He performed.”

Despite his recording history, Callier was without a label. Once his daughter moved in, Callier found a straight job working as a temp at the University of Chicago. He made minimum wage.

“If he got sick he didn’t get paid. But he always made sure I had everything,” she said, her voice breaking. “Anything I asked for, he would go without. His shoes had holes in them ...” She could not finish the sentence.

Callier went on to get a degree in computer programming at North Park University and began working full time as a programmer for the National Opinion Research Center, an affiliate of the University of Chicago.

“He would work 9 to 5 and go to school at night,” she said. “Then he would come home and do his homework — and my homework.”

By then, they had moved to an apartment at Broadway and Waveland, and Sunny began to learn there was another side to her father. “In 1991, he got a call from Eddie Pillar [of the Acid Jazz label in London] and they were playing ‘Look At Me Now,’ ” his debut 1963 single for Chess records, she said.

They wanted him to come to London and perform. “He wasn’t traveling. ... At the last minute we decided to go to the U.K. and I went with him. So many people came to see him.

“That’s when I really began to understand the other side of my father.”

In 1992, Terry Callier was offered a scholarship in the graduate program in sociology at the University of Michigan. Callier, his daughetr and her younger brother, Dhoruba Somlyo, moved to Ypsilanti, Mich.

“I was miserable,” she admitted. “We didn’t have family. We didn’t have a car. There were no sidewalks. We stayed a year. He was upset that I wasn’t happy and was willing to give up getting his doctorate degree.”

They came back to Chicago. In 1996 Callier-Dullum obtained her degree in elementary education at Northeastern Illinois.

Only then did her father become comfortable re-entering the music world.

Mission accomplished.

In 1997, Callier released “TimePeace,” his first album in 17 years. It won the United Nations “Time for Peace” award for outstanding artistic achievement contributing to world peace.

That year, he also guested on British electronica folk singer Beth Orton’s “Best Bit” EP. They dueted on Callier’s lilting “Lean on Me” (not the Bill Withers hit), which he used to play at now-defunct Chicago music rooms like the Bulls and the Quiet Knight. Orton was knocked out by Callier’s seminal 1964 album “New Folk Sound of Terry Callier,” which is also a template for singer Michael Kiwanuka.

“It blew my mind that each time I was given a new direction to take in Terry’s music I would discover a world entirely different from the last,” Orton wrote in an email. “By the time I met friends who also knew of him and told me of a gig he was doing in London I could barely stand the anticipation. I didn’t know he was alive, he seemed so otherworldly to me. Standing watching him and listening to all the songs I had loved for so long with a room full of people, I was high as kite. He could move between worlds seamlessly.

“Whether jazz or folk or blues, Terry held it all together with his soul.”

Callier kept his ears tuned to current music. “He really liked Lil Wayne,” his daughter said. “That one CD [2009’s ‘Hidden Conversations’ with Massive Attack], he tried his hand at rapping. We never sat around and listened to his music, but he loved Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. We’d watch videos by Sade. We listened to James Taylor together. He wasn’t a music snob ­— but he didn’t listen to B-96. He had a good sense of humor about it.”

Callier was a grounded soul, which informed his gracious majesty.

On Oct. 24, Callier-Dullum took her father to the hospital for the final time. He underwent surgery for the cancer that had spread. “We were sitting in the kitchen on the morning of the surgery,” Callier-Durham said in measured tones. “He told me, ‘You need to raise Evan [her 7-year-old son[ like you’ve been raised.’

“I know by him telling me that I can go on for myself.”

Besides his daughter and son, Mr. Callier is survived by Callier-Dullum’s mother, Louise Lora Somlyo; a grandson, Evan Dullum; a son-in-law, Brian Dullum; a brother, Michael Callier, and loving companion Shirley G. Austin. A public memorial will be held at a later date.

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