Talitha MacKenzie, a native of New York, has been singing all her life. Whistling and humming tunes from the age of six months, her first public performance was at a family wedding, a week before her third birthday. She began studying classical piano at the age of four and by thirteen she already had music students of her own.
Growing up in multicultural New York, she became enthralled with traditional singing from all over the world. Having first heard Gaelic song at the age of seven, she was in her teens when she began to collect field recordings of old-style traditional singing. With nothing but a Teach Yourself Gaelic textbook, she began the arduous task of learning the language, so that she could perform the songs that she loved. At the same time, she was studying French and Russian at school and consuming Slavic and French Impressionist piano music by the book.
First enrolling as a student of Russian at Connecticut College, she transferred and then graduated from the New England Conservatory of Music, her degree in Music History/Ethnomusicology. It was here that she led the Eastern European Music Ensemble and sang in the New England Conservatory Choir, performing with the Boston Symphony Orchestra (under conductors Seiji Ozawa, Colin Davis and Claudio Abbado) and also with Julia Sutton's Historical Dance troupe Collegium Terpsichore. Her first job after graduation was team-teaching a course in Music & Dance at Harvard University: Structure & Form in Music & Movement.
Between college and conservatory, a job at World Tone Music (on Manhattan's 7th Avenue) placed MacKenzie at the centre of the International Folk Dance Scene, where she was inundated with exotic modes and unusual rhythms. She also became involved in a number of specialist dance ensembles (including Renaissance/Baroque, Balkan and Celtic). This, along with her work as shantyman and deckhand on Tall Ships Unicorn and Young America, gave her a unique insight into the organic rhythms of movement-related music.
By the mid-1980s she had recorded an album with Boston-Irish group St James Gate and her first solo album, SHANTYMAN!. After several years of touring solo across America and performing mouth music with Scottish dancebands, MacKenzie moved to Scotland in 1987, where she performed with the Scottish Folk Ensemble Drumalban.
In 1988, she co-founded the duo Mouth Music, whose groundbreaking eponymous album topped charts in Music Week and Billboard, receiving international critical acclaim. While her music partner left to pursue other projects, Talitha continued the original Mouth Music project under her own name, releasing a second solo album, SÒLAS (solace), in 1993.
In 1995, a role in the Gaelic play, Réiteach, took her on tour throughout Scotland. Later that year, she signed a contract with Shanachie Entertainment Corp., recording her third solo album, SPIORAD (spirit), in France, with producer Chris Birkett (whose credits include Sinéad O' Connor, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Alison Moyet).
In 2004, MacKenzie was swept off to Hollywood, where she and London Bulgarian Choir director Dessislava Stefanova sang on the soundtrack of the blockbuster film TROY. Income from this was invested in setting up the label SONAS Multimedia, and releasing her fourth solo album INDIAN SUMMER. One of the tracks, 'Land of the Setting Sun', received an award from the USA Songwriting Competition.
After buying back the rights to her album SPIORAD in 2011, she rereleased a new version of it on her own label the following year, singing the opening track at the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Thames River Pageant in London as soloist with Orlando Gough's Commonwealth Choir.
In 2008, MacKenzie joined the Music Department of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland as lecturer in Scottish Music and Historical Dance.
In 2014, MacKenzie was invited to perform and call dances from an 18th c Scottish collection, which led to a five-year project reconstructing the Regency quadrilles of Nathaniel Gow for three bicentennial balls at the Edinburgh Assembly Rooms, on the same date and in the same place where the dances had been performed two hundred years before. People travelled from all over the world to attend and the Edinburgh Quadrille Society was born out of the project's success. It was at these balls that her Historical Dance group Rossignol made its debut.
MacKenzie is looking forward to touring again in the coming months.