China Forbes was born and grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she graduated cum laude from Harvard and was awarded the 1992 Jonathan Levy Prize for most promising actor. She appeared in New York regional theater 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.
She 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, Harvard classmate Thomas Lauderdale invited her to sing with Pink Martini; with Lauderdale, she has since co-written many of the band’s most popular songs, including “Je ne veux pas travailler,” “Lilly,” “Clementine,” “Let’s Never Stop Falling in Love,” “Over the Valley” and “A Snow Globe Christmas,” which can be heard on Pink Martini’s holiday album “Joy to the World” (2010). 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” (2003), and her original song “The Northern Line” appears at the end of sister Maya Forbes’ directorial debut “Infinitely Polar Bear” (2015). Both films star Mark Ruffalo.
Forbes has performed songs in more than 15 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” (2008), a collection of autobiographical folk-rock songs.