China Forbes always heard that you don't miss what you have until it's gone. But only lately did the singer, who appears Sunday with Pink Martini in San Francisco, fully appreciate it.
Two decades ago, the Harvard graduate was an aspiring actress and songwriter living in New York. (“I wanted to be like Liz Phair, but I was more like Sheryl Crow,” she admits.)
Then her old college pal Thomas Lauderdale invited her out to Portland, Ore., to sing — first occasionally, then permanently — with his sleek orchestral combo Pink Martini.
But by 2011, her outlook had soured.
“After years of touring, I was jaded —grumpy and resentful that I had to move around all the time,” she says. “I think you can really lose touch with your initial passion when it becomes your profession.”
That's exactly when Forbes literally lost her cocktail-cool singing voice, as if the universe were sending her a straighten-up-and-fly-right message.
Now, after some serious throat surgery, she's back in fine form on the band's eclectic new CD, “Get Happy.” She trills in Turkish on the exotic “Uskudar,” in French with Phillippe Katerine on their co-written “Je Ne T'aime Plus,” and with Rufus Wainwright on the cabaret-chic “Get Happy/Happy Days.”
On record and in concert at Stern Grove this weekend, she shares frontwoman duties with her powerhouse peer Storm Large, a Martini guest vocalist during Forbes' yearlong recovery.
It started with the birth of Forbes' son Cameron in 2009.
“I was a germophobe all my life, and I remember thinking, 'Oh, my God, now I'm going to get all of the colds that he gets, because he's like a petri dish, crawling all over me,'” she says, chuckling. By the time he was 2 and in preschool, she adds, “I caught all of his colds, and then I went on tour and sang through those colds, and I felt like I was always hoarse.”
When one cold disappeared and the raspiness remained, she nervously consulted her physician. The diagnosis: A vocal-cord hemorrhage, caused by tiny polyps.
“It was exactly what happened to Adele, except right before it happened to her,” says Forbes, 43.
An operation was scheduled, then plenty of quiet time. A speech pathologist taught her how to avoid strain in everyday conversation. A vocal instructor showed her simple techniques to extend her range.
“And now my voice is better than it ever was before,” she says.
Ultimately, Forbes views the loss as a gain. “It was amazing how this whole experience completely turned my attitude around,” she says. “It made me realize I love being a performer, and I'm so lucky to be a musician. Now I just love touring and singing!”
IF YOU GO
Where: Stern Grove, 19th Avenue and Sloat Boulevard, S.F.
When: 2 p.m. Sunday
Contact: (415) 252-6252, www.sterngrove.org