Joanna Forest: Award-Winning
Classical Crossover Soprano
Joanna is an award-winning, record-breaking, best-selling, official double classical number one Soprano.
Joanna shot to fame in 2017 when she broke records becoming the first independent artist to go straight to Number one in the Official Classical Album Charts with a debut album, Stars Are Rising. Her second album, The Rhythm of Life, released in 2019, also shot straight to the top of the classical charts on release. Both albums received critical acclaim across TV, Radio and National Press including Album of the Week in The Sunday Mirror.
Joanna entered the world of classical crossover in 2014 following a successful West End and TV career. Her first public performance as a crossover artist was in duet with Britain’s Got Talent megastar, Paul Potts, at The Palace Theatre, London who later also guest duetted with Joanna on “The Rhythm of Life” with a new arrangement of Boccelli’s “Because We Believe”.
Further recordings included a classical Number one single with “The Royal Platinum Love Song,” released to celebrate seventy years of marriage between The Queen and Prince Philip, a Top 10 classical Christmas hit, “That is his Story” and a lead appearance on Sir Paul McCartney backed “Choirs With Purpose” Stand Together album backed by a 600 strong choir. Joanna recently hit the No.1 spot once more in the classical chart with “By My Side’ written to celebrate sixty years of the wonderful work Cruse Bereavement Care Charity.
No stranger to high profile performances, Joanna has sung on the pitch at Premier League and Championship Football Grounds, on BBC’s Songs of Praise performing “Ave Maria,” as a lead soloist at the prestigious Bedford Park Proms and York’s Castle Howard Proms, theatres up and down the UK and on her own nationwide tour.
As a result of Joanna’s chart success, she was awarded the first-ever “Future Classic Women” Award in May 2019.
Joanna writes a monthly column for Classical Crossover Magazine called The Rhythm of My Life.
(Courtesy of Joanna Forest’s website)
TSM: Thank you so much for interviewing for the magazine.
JF: Thank you so much for asking me and including me. It’s such a pleasure.
TSM: What inspired you to become a classical crossover soprano singer?
JF: I always knew that I wanted to be a performer ever since I can remember. I was lucky enough to go to a stage school instead of a normal secondary school, and it was there doing proper training for a career in the performing arts. I knew that it was definitely the career that I wanted to take in some form. So, my emphasis was on musical theatre, but after I left, I did: musical theatre, straight plays, a bit of TV, some commercials and voice-overs. A few years ago, I realized that singing was my absolute passion; it’s what I’m happiest about and what I enjoy doing the most out of all of the arts. I also really like the idea of singing as myself, the challenge of that rather than the hiding behind a character, and I’ve got used to it now, but there’s something quite exposing about standing on a stage. They are there to see you, but not there to see you in a show with other actors as part of an ensemble. Ultimately, I think it’s the most rewarding as well. I just absolutely love the classical crossover genre because I love the fact that you can take your influences from all the other genres, and then make it your own. It’s like a melting pot of all the genres coming in together. I think it’s a really, really special genre. There are other names for it, some people call it Popera. I definitely feel that this is my right lane to be in.
TSM: Your first public performance as a crossover artist was a duet with Britain’s Got Talent megastar, Paul Potts in 2014. Then later he guest-duetted with you on The Rhythm of Life with a new arrangement of Bocelli’s “Because We Believe.” What was it like working with him?
JF: He’s so lovely. He’s got such an amazing voice, and he’s had such a wonderful career. He’s so down-to-earth and so supportive. I had done Cabarets before, but they were very sort of musical theatre. The show at the Palace Theatre asked me to sing was the first time that I’ve done something more classical with a classical artist, such as Paul Potts. It was wonderful that he lent his voice to the concert and then afterwards to my album because he’s got such an amazing voice, so beautiful. Standing on that stage with the orchestra behind me, I knew then that was the right path for me and something that I should definitely, definitely pursue and I have, and I haven’t looked back. It has definitely been the right thing.
TSM: Tell us about your latest album release The Rhythm of Life. How did you go about song selection for the album?
JF: I wanted to do something completely different from my first album Stars Are Rising. I thought I’d go in a completely different direction, and I had the idea of doing an album for younger years as an introduction to classical music. I wanted it to be really fun, engaging and something for the whole family to enjoy. The concept was a day in the life of a child, and each song would represent a time of the day, so we start with Take That’s “Greatest Day” and it goes throughout the day. We have “When You Wish Upon A Star as the last song, As Talked about, We have Paul Pott singing “Because We Believe” on it with me and Andy Day on “Let’s Go Fly A Kite.” I really wanted younger years to enjoy this. Sometimes people say to me, “you know, classical music isn’t really my thing.” Potentially, they’ve really enjoyed an orchestral movie soundtrack, or when playing computer games got swept up in the music, and it’s really added to it. The songs are recognizable songs done in an orchestral way.
When deciding what to put on the album, my inspiration for each of the songs is my favourite part of creating an album. Just thinking, you haven’t recorded anything yet, or you may not have even got the title of the album, but you’ve got this nugget of a concept. What is going to go on there? I love that. So, you start with such a big list, and then you whittle it down until you get your perfect list.
My best friend runs a theatre school, All the Arts Theatre School. Ever since she’s opened it, which is probably about fifteen years ago, I’ve always kind of been part of it; always teaching there or helped out with shows. We created an All the Arts Theatre School Choir, and they are the choir on the songs, “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” and “Food Glorious Food.” We went to All the Arts Theatre School and recorded them, and they did so well. I love the fact that they’re on there, it makes me really happy every time I listen to them, and they got such a big kick out of being part of it. They absolutely loved it, so I was really pleased that could happen.
TSM: You have also released various singles. Tell us about them.
JF: Out of the blue, my highest-charting single happened. I don’t know whether you have heard the news where you are, but a policeman was killed in the line of duty, and that shouldn’t have happened. It was big news, and I remember thinking how terribly sad that was. Then a little while later, a mutual friend of mine and Sergeant Matt Ratana’s contacted me from East Grinstead Rugby Club. He told me that Matt Ratana had been nominated for BBC Sports Personality Unsung Hero. He asked me if I could create some music for his entry, and they would love it to be called “World In Union.” I remember that policeman and I absolutely wanted to help, So, together with Joel Goodman, who is a very talented pianist and arranger, we worked out just a plano and a vocal version of “World in Union” It was recorded locally where I live (shout out to Sound Lab studio in Loughton, who supported and allowed us to record it there). We recorded it with my friend and the chairman of the East Grinstead Rugby Club, which was very emotional because it’s still very raw for his friends and family. It also felt very emotional, but Joel and I both felt like it was very moving that we were so happy that we could help in some way.
Then we were very honoured that his partner wanted it played at his funeral. Then the East Grinstead Ruby club created a foundation in Matt Ratana’s name and decided that this song would be a really good Kickstarter to start to create awareness of the charity that would be an amazing legacy, which would continue all the amazing work and plans he had for the Rugby Club. Everything that he stood for and wanted to achieve really massively helping the community through sport was amazing. “World in Union” was released as a single, and it got to number one in the Classical Singles Chart. Then it appeared in the main pop chart. It started to climb, and climb, and climb, and it got to 24, which absolutely blew my mind because as an independent artist and independent release, you sort of think things like that would never have happened. What it shows me is that I truly believe that music has the power to heal; it really, really does and I think music is such a special gift in that way. I think the most moving thing that I’ve ever done in my career was to help out and be part of that. Joel and I just feel so incredibly honoured that happened, and that we could do that.
There have been some other lovely collaborations. In 2017, the Queen and Prince Philip celebrated seventy years of being married, and the Royal composer, Olga Thomas, who’s such a lovely, beautiful person and I think that’s why she can create such beautiful music, so it just comes out of her. When something happens, an event in the Royal family, she creates the music for it, and she presents this music to the Queen. Olga is very involved with Cruse Bereavement Care, which the queen is still a patron of. So that’s the connection with the “Royal Platinum Love Song” it’s called, and I duet with Daniel Kopek on it. He is a West End star, and the youngest singer to ever play Jean Valjean, in Les Miserables. He has got the most amazing voice. We recorded that with a full orchestra, and I loved singing the song and singing with Daniel. That song got to number one in the classical singles chart as well, which is amazing. Since then, Olga has asked me to sing on two other singles for her. They have both also got to number one, which is really exciting. I really enjoy these collaborations.
So, I’ve released quite a few bits of music now. I think as an independent artist, it’s a constant learning curve. I’ve realized there’s no right way to do these things, you just got to do it your way, and hopefully, it will work out. If you’re making music that you like, hopefully, other people will love it too.
TSM: I really love your “Let’s Go Fly A Kite” video with Andy Day. I’m curious to know who did the animation for it?
JF: My friend Gary Andrews animated that video, who is a fantastic animator. He’s one of the best and has animated for Disney. He’s absolutely fantastic and has animated three music videos for me now, including “Let’s Go Fly A Kite.” He adds something very, very special to the videos and makes them really stand out. He’s so talented. I can’t draw at all, so I am in awe of his ability.
TSM: I know that you write a monthly column for a classical crossover magazine called The Rhythm of My Life. Can you tell us a bit about it?
JF: I love writing the column, and it was something new to try last year when we were in lockdown, and I’ve absolutely loved it. With Rhythm of My Life, I look at the highs and the lows, and everything in between of being an independent artist in the classical crossover genre. I’ve just really enjoyed writing each month about what’s been going on, what I’ve been up to, and how I’m feeling about things. I think it’s just a really lovely thing to do. I’ve loved it, and it’s something new for me as well.
TSM: What inspired you to get involved with the HOPE Charity Project?
JF: Claire, who runs the charity is a very good friend of mine, so there’s a huge personal connection with that. It’s an amazing charity and project. Claire experienced very traumatic times with her eldest daughter, having some issues with her emotional, mental health and well-being. They created this charity to help families and parents whose children are having a rough time with their mental health. From what I’m learning about it, it’s not something I knew loads about, but what I do know is that the mental health facilities for children are very, very, very stretched. Charities like this are absolutely valuable, whether it be advice, support, or just people who understand what the families are going through and how it can really be. I think charities like the Hope Charity Project, unfortunately, are really feeling the lockdown. Things like fundraising can’t go ahead, or people could be in a very difficult position financially because the virus means that fewer people are donating to charities. The London Marathon didn’t go ahead and know there are certain events I think that charities rely on that couldn’t happen. So, I think they’re really, really feeling it, but they work so hard, they’re a very small charity. They’ve got some brilliant ambassadors on board, so I’m sure they’re going to do even more amazing things and help even more families and young people.
TSM: Who are some musicians you admire and look up to?
JF: There’s so many. My first inspiration, who I first heard sing, she’s amazing. She’s acting and singing at the same time. It was the first time I have really seen musical theatre and it was on TV. It was the song part from a program called The Song and Dance, and it was Andrew Lloyd Webber’s one-woman show, Tell Me On A Sunday. I was captivated and thought Sarah Brightman was brilliant. I love the fact that she’s sort of classical crossover. I also think in the classical world Andrea Bocelli is again goosebumps. I think he’s absolutely fantastic. I admire artists from all genres and discovering new music. I think it’s really fun when somebody new comes along, and that’s why I enjoy taking influences from lots of different artists when deciding what shape and album are going to take.
TSM: If you had the power to do something in the world today, what would it be and why?
JF: If I had the power to do anything in the world, I would like to stop all wars between countries, I would like every single disease to disappear, whether that be Coronavirus, cancer, they’ve all gone. If I could change anything in the world, we’ve got no war, no disease, nobody lives in poverty and all governments are kind.
TSM: What is one of your favourite quotes (or lines) that inspires you?
JF: “I haven’t come this far to just get this far.” It inspires me because it pushes me to keep going and think of all the things that I’ve done to get to where I am. You know to keep, keep pushing, and keep being brave, and continuing with what I’m doing. I really love that quote.
TSM: Anything else you’d like to share and where can readers find out more about you and your music?
JF: My website is: https://www.joannaforest.com, Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/joannaforest, Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/joannaforestsoprano and Twitter: https://twitter.com/joannaforest
You can also find me on YouTube, and if you subscribe to my YouTube channel you’ll never miss a video that I upload, like new music or me performing. I’ve also got a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff on there, and my animated videos. You can hear my music on Spotify and buy physical albums on Amazon. I really hope people will check out my music and they can find out more about me.
TSM: Thank you so much again for doing an interview.
JF: Thank you, it’s been lovely chatting with you Jessica. I feel like I know you now because I feel like we’ve met.