Origin stories: Bif Naked, Canadian Singer

‘By default, I’m a pretty positive person’

Before adopting the stage name Bif Naked, Winnipeg musician Beth Torbert dreamed of joining the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. (Supplied photo)

Born Beth Torbert, Bif Naked talks about her atypical childhood. She tells the story of coming to Winnipeg by way of her American adoptive parents.

“My parents, connected to the United Church while at the University of Minnesota, ended up doing a furlough in India. They weren’t actually doing missionary work. My dad was fixing all the teeth of the missionaries. My mother ended up volunteering in an ashram beside the dental clinic,” Bif says.

“They found out about my impending birth to a Canadian teenager. They adopted me and moved back to America. Then my dad took a position at The Pas in northern Manitoba. So Manitoba started to figure prominently for my family,” Bif says.

A couple of job postings later, and the family relocated to Winnipeg. As a junior-high student, Bif attended John Taylor Collegiate.

Her parents enrolled their three daughters in performance-arts festivals. Bif and her two sisters also studied piano. However, Bif’s career intent lay elsewhere.

“I wasn’t a fan of piano, but, in fact, (I) was a big fan of ballet. I really thought I was going to be a prima ballerina. Living in Winnipeg, (the) RWB (Royal Winnipeg Ballet) was a dream. Instead, I discovered heavy-metal music, smoking cigarettes and chasing boys,” Bif says.

Later, she found a calling that resonated with her. However, it created some initial resentment.

Discovering drama in high school captivated Bif. She was given a top role in the senior high-school musical, a decision her choral classmates begrudged.

“I was never in choral. I never sang until I was cast as Daisy Mae in Li’l Abner. It was a massive scandal for all the 16- and 17-year-olds who were aspiring to be in this role, because they were in choir, and I was an outsider,” Bif says.

Unsure of what to study after high school, Bif delayed registering for university.

“At the 11th hour, I applied. By the seat of my pants, I was accepted into the University of Winnipeg’s bachelor of arts program,” Bif says.

Known in the music industry as Bif Naked, the best-selling Canadian musician explains how she chose the stage name.

The nickname “Bif’’ transpired when her first name was mispronounced. She liked the “androgenous and unique sound” of the sobriquet and continued to use it.

“I was a bit of a tomboy, so I liked that a lot.”

She explains the “Naked” last name, too.

“I thought it would be funny to have a very provocative name that would create mystery ... which was ‘Naked,’” Bif says.

She believes change has occurred over the years, and kids today talk nonchalantly about being non-binary or pansexual. Long open about her bisexuality, Bif feels she understands her own sexuality differently today. She wouldn’t necessarily refer to herself as bi but as pansexual instead.

Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017, the Juno award-winning artist credits her optimistic attitude for helping overcome that health challenge.

“Even when I was in the throes of my cancer treatment, I’m kind of by default a pretty positive person, which I think helped me cope and generally feel pretty good throughout the whole process. I always feel like I’m in good health,” Bif says.

Published in Volume 77, Number 06 of The Uniter (October 20, 2022)

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