Heitha Forsyth started university as a classical French horn player who loved singing in choirs. Then she tripped over jazz and her musical pathway took a dramatic detour. She stepped up to a microphone, and it suited her to a T. She developed a gutsy lower range and an ethereal top range—and she would take on anything with that signature grin of hers. Week after week at the Cool Monday Night Hang, she would make us sit up and take notice. “Night in Tunisia,” “So in Love,” “Evil Girl Blues”—it wasn’t just that she sounded good, it was that she loved what she sang. We did too.
Heitha (or Heiða, the Icelandic spelling she has adopted as a performing name) has always been a musical adventurer. By the time she graduated from the U of M in 2008, she was singing all over the place—big concert stages, small clubs, private socials and weddings. You could hear her chanting Arabic with the Oceanic Jazz Orchestra, singing jazz standards with the Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra, or belting out R&B tunes with talented young players in pubs around town.
A couple of years later, she’s established a lively presence on the local music scene, and her tastes continue to be eclectic. She’s a fixture at the King’s Head every week as one of the Satellites in the Retro Rhythm Review, a soul-style band that knocks the socks off tunes from the 60s, 70s, and 80s. They’re also Rocki Roletti’s back-up band, so it’s been a busy spring—they performed at Manitoba’s Largest Social in May and, more recently, Kidstock. She has had her own club show at the Jazz Winnipeg festival for several years, but this year she’s been invited to step out of the jazz zone and do a soul show on the free stage as part of the Final Wrap-Up Weekend.
When I ask Heitha about this mix of genres, she laughs and says she “can’t fathom being caged into one kind of thing. I just want to sing!” We consider the list—jazz, funk, R&B, pop, soul—then she smiles conspiratorially and says, “What I really love is country. It’s what I grew up hearing, it speaks to me. People think that’s a big departure from jazz, but I point out it’s also ‘the people’s music.’ It’s about real people living in the moment…”
I can see the flash of excitement in her. When she hints that there’s a big project coming up, I know we’re about to see yet another face of Heitha Forsyth.