Faith Winthrop enjoys a good play on words, whether in conversation, a lyric or her own name.
The elegant singer — some call her “San Francisco’s grande dame of music” — named her first CD “A Leap of Faith,” and her two performances beginning Monday for her Rrazz Room debut have been titled “Faith Lift.”
Winthrop has been singing to acclaim since she started in Boston clubs in 1953 — “little mafia joints and payoff places,” as she calls them — and migrated to the Bay Area at the suggestion of a Beantown critic who thought she’d fit in well here. He was right.
Her first gig was as the house singer for the legendary North Beach club The Hungry I.
“It was the perfect exodus!” she says. “I was living on a houseboat in Sausalito and driving my first car, a ’53 MG TD — red, of course — across the Golden Gate Bridge!”
Today, her home is Cole Valley, which is where she sees voice students when she’s not at Mills College in Oakland or Berkeley’s Jazzschool, and also where, in a more recent career development, she writes songs.
“They kind of come to me whole, from a phrase or something I’ve seen. I’m highlighting some of my foibles like food and shopping in the songs,” Winthrop says. “Also aging, which is definitely one of my foibles! My hope is to inspire people to embrace the concept. I’m living proof. I’m 78 and very grateful to still be here doing what I do.”
Recently voted Best Vocal Coach in San Francisco by SF Weekly, Winthrop is a serious twist on the adage that those who can’t, teach.
Through the years she’s coached the likes of Ben Vereen, Holly Near, Paula West and even such unexpected pupils as Keanu Reeves, among many who have sought her guidance.
“There’s a class I teach that I call ‘For the Love of Singing.’ I thought of it as a way to appeal to people who might have put aside their vocal dreams because of education or career or family obligations and wanted another chance to explore singing,” she says.
Winthrop believes anyone can be taught to sing and estimates her students range from teens to folks near her own age. She’s willing to work with whatever they bring her.
“I don’t turn up my nose at new music,” Winthrop says. “A young student recently asked if I’d work with ‘alternative’ music. Alternative turned out to be Beyoncé Knowles, which I thought was very funny!”
IF YOU GO
Where: Rrazz Room, Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Monday-Tuesday
Contact: (866) 468-3399, www.therrazzroom.com