China Forbes was born and raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she graduated cum laude from Harvard and was awarded the Jonathan Levy Prize for “most promising actor” in 1992. She appeared in New York regional theatre and Off-Off Broadway productions, earning her Equity card alongside future stars of stage and screen such as Norm Lewis, Peter Jacobson, and Rainn Wilson.
China and her first band played regularly at CBGB’s Gallery, the Mercury Lounge, and Brownies in New York City. Her first solo album Love Handle was released in 1995, and she was chosen to sing “Ordinary Girl,” the theme song to the TV show Clueless.
In 1995, she was plucked from New York City by Harvard classmate Thomas Lauderdale to sing with Pink Martini, and has since co-written many of the band’s most beloved songs with Lauderdale, including “Je ne veux pas travailler,” “Lilly,” “Clementine,” “Let’s Never Stop Falling in Love,” “Over the Valley,” and “A Snowglobe Christmas,” which can be heard on Pink Martini’s holiday album Joy to the World. Her original song “Hey Eugene” is the title song of Pink Martini’s third album. She sang “Qué Será Será” over the opening and closing credits of Jane Campion’s film In the Cut, and her original song “The Northern Line” appears at the end of sister Maya Forbes’ directorial debut Infinitely Polar Bear (Sony Pictures Classics). Both films star Mark Ruffalo.
Forbes has performed songs in over twenty languages and has sung duets with Michael Feinstein, Jimmy Scott, Georges Moustaki, Henri Salvador, Saori Yuki, Faith Prince, Carol Channing, and Rufus Wainwright, among others. She has performed in venues from Carnegie Hall to Red Rocks, the Hollywood Bowl to the Grand Rex in Paris. She released her second solo album ’78 on Heinz Records in 2008, a collection of autobiographical folk-rock songs.