Sonja Kristina – singer – actress – songwriter
Kristina was born in Brentwood as Sonja Christina Shaw, daughter of a criminologist and granddaughter of Swedish actress Gerda Lundequist.
Kristina first appeared on stage at the Swan Folk Club in Romford at the age of thirteen. Her first professional gig was at a Folk Festival in Southgate, London a year or so later. By 1968, while studying at the New College of Speech and Drama, Kristina was helping to run, and performing at, the Wednesday evening sessions at London's Troubadour Folk Club. She was generally known on the folk scene as "Sonja" having previously appeared several times on the British children's TV show "Song and Story" under that name. Her first manager was Roy Guest of Folk Directions.
In 1968, Kristina auditioned for and won the part of "Crissy" in the London stage production of the stage musical Hair. She features on the original cast album singing the song "Frank Mills", also released as a single.
She also briefly sang with The Strawbs, following the departure of Sandy Denny. Dave Cousins remembered:
"Or Am I Dreaming" (on Strawbs LP) was very much inspired by the sessions I used to do at the Troubadour with Sonja Kristina .... When Sandy left the band Sonja was going to be her replacement, but she did one show with us at a folk club in Chelmsford, and that was it. The reprise was about the magic mountain music man, which was me... that was in the poem I wrote about her which was going to be in the book of my poems that was never released. Cousins eventually published the book, called The Bruising of Hearts, The Losing Of Races, in 1993. It included a poem "Silver Smile", written for Kristina in the late 1960s.
According to AllMusic, it was Galt McDermott, who wrote the music for Hair and another musical Who the Murderer Was, who employed the four members of Curved Air as a house band, who suggested when the stage show closed that they add Kristina to the line-up. Another version has it that manager Mark Hanau had the idea Kristina's alto vocals could become a vital ingredient in a new band. On 1 January 1970 the singer received an official invitation to become a member of Curved Air. She remembered sitting backstage on the theatre stairs listening to a cassette of the band's music Hanau had given her, and being much impressed. Described by Sting as a "real beauty, otherworldly and unattainable", at a time when the progressive rock industry was known to be particularly misogynistic, Kristina played a full creative role bringing with it a powerful female sexuality. Her experiences working as a croupier in the London Playboy Club during the early 1970s, reflected itself in the stage persona she later developed.
Curved Air had a changing line-up over their nine albums (1970–1976 and 1990), with Kristina being the only constant element. Since 2008, she has taken part in a series of Curved Air reunion concerts.
After Curved Air, she returned to Hair. She has also performed solo, including as part of the acid folk movement in London in the early 1990s, culminating in her critically acclaimed Songs from the Acid Folk in 1991, and in a multi-media duo MASK, with Marvin Ayres.
In 2008, Curved Air was reformed with other original members including Darryl Way and Florian Pilkington-Miksa and, later, Kirby Gregory from the 'Air Cut' line up. The band continues to record and perform internationally.
Sonja Kristina has arrived on stage. Suddenly there is no band, no stage, no college kids. Just Sonja glinting in the green light. She moves like smoke across the stage, hardly seeming to move at all, but underdulating in slow motion. Who cares what the band is doing? As a muso I've never bothered with singers, considering them to be musical passengers/ How wrong I've been! She's not even singing yet, and she owns everything. - Stewart Copeland
Including the London version of the musical Hair (1968), Kristina has performed in numerous theatre and musical theatre productions from the early 1960s onwards, including 'East Lynne' (1966), a lead role in 'Romeo and Juliet', 'The French Have a Song For It' (1979) with Helen Shapiro, 'Man to Woman' with Marsha Hunt (1982), and 'Shona'
'Curriculee, Curricula' (BBC TV 22/5/1978) with Dave Greenslade,
In 1971, Kristina received the Sounds magazine Top Female Vocalist Award, and in 2014 the 'Guiding Light Award' at the Progressive Music Awards. The award was presented by television broadcaster, and long-standing Curved Air fan, Katie Puckrik for helping pave the way for other female artists who followed, including Kate Bush, Heather Findlay, Anne-Marie Helder and others.