Fanny Rose Porter (Poata), who was best known by her stage name, Te Rangi Pai, was born at Tokomaru Bay, according to family sources on 11 January 1868. She was the eldest of nine children of Herewaka Porourangi Pōtae (also known as Te Rangi-i-pāea) and her husband, Thomas William Porter. Herewaka, who had been prominent in the defence of Te Māwhai pā against a Pai Mārire attack in 1865, was the daughter of Tama-i-whakanehua-i-te-rangi and Mereana Tongia and held high rank in Te Whānau-ā-Apanui, Te Whānau-ā-Ruataupare and Ngāti Porou. Porter had been in the navy before arriving in New Zealand in 1863. Joining the Colonial Defence Force as lieutenant, he served with Major Rāpata Wahawaha, whose relative Herewaka he met about 1866.
After taking a prominent role in the expeditions against Te Kooti, Thomas Porter was given command of the East Coast Militia and Volunteer District in 1877, a position he held for periods until 1890. During this time he was also a land purchase officer, and, for five years, mayor of Gisborne. Herewaka was a well-known member of the Anglican church, and helped promote educational, sporting and musical activities. Fanny and her three sisters attended Mrs Sheppard's Ladies' School in Napier and possibly also a private school in Wellington. They received their early musical education at home, where their parents sometimes hosted touring celebrities such as the Pollard Opera Company.
Possessed of a fine natural contralto voice, Fanny Porter began to perform in public and impressed visiting entertainers with her talent. She lacked formal training, though, and after hearing her sing in Gisborne in mid 1891, the touring Australian contralto Madame Patey urged her to study overseas. After marrying civil servant John Howie in Christchurch on 15 October 1891 she studied singing in Australia and is said to have toured there in 1898 before returning to New Zealand. By 1900 she was using as a stage name a shortened version of her mother's name, Te Rangi Pai, which means 'the beautiful sky'. In December that year Fanny departed for England to study with the baritone Charles Santley.
Arriving in London with her husband in early 1901, Fanny Howie was welcomed by the expatriate community and attended the annual New Zealand dinner hosted by William Pember Reeves, the agent general for New Zealand. She embarked on concert, oratorio and ballad training: with a vocal range from mezzo-soprano to contralto, she could handle many styles. As 'The Princess Te Rangi Pai', she gave her début performance in Liverpool in late 1901, and was highly praised by the critics. Thereafter she was much in demand for recital work.
Striking in appearance, with a statuesque figure, Fanny Howie had great stage presence, but other musicians did not always find her easy to work with. She was, according to one accompanist, 'very emotional, temperamental, to some extent unpredictable' and could be 'rather difficult to accompany'. Nevertheless she was considered to be very warm-hearted and sociable.
John Howie had returned to New Zealand after seeing Fanny settled in, but after his departure she had very little money and had to take any available job to get by. She appeared widely in Britain, in promenade and formal concerts, fashionable soirées and charity performances. She sang at the Royal Albert Hall on several occasions, including the Grand Irish Festival on St Patrick's Day 1902, and the Grand Scotch Festival on St Andrew's Eve the same year. However, singing in oratorios in cathedrals gave her the greatest satisfaction.
When illness delayed the planned June 1902 coronation of King Edward VII, Fanny Howie organised a very successful colonial concert in London at the Queen's Hall. New Zealand and Australian vocalists were featured and the contingent of Māori who had come to London for the coronation 'performed a haka with immense effect, repeating it thrice in response to irresistible demands'. A music critic later commented that 'Te Rangi Pai herself…has a voice of admirable power and quality, and knows exceedingly well how to use it'. In August, Fanny Howie's father, now Colonel Porter, led the New Zealand contingent in the Coronation Royal Review in London. Fanny accompanied her father when he was made a CB for his services as a commander in the South African War.
In 1903 Fanny Howie toured the British Isles with a New Zealand representative brass band, the Hinemoa Band, and the baritone Edward Rangiuia, who was of Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti descent and who like Fanny came from Gisborne. Fanny later unsuccessfully attempted to raise a concert party of Māori to tour Britain with her. As she became well known, she achieved the distinction of being invited to sing by Queen Alexandra.
The deaths of her mother and youngest brother Robert late in 1904 and her own ill health led Fanny to return to New Zealand in 1905. She renewed contact with family members, including her brother Tāme Poata, who was by then an expert in Māori traditions and the art of moko. She made several popular tours through New Zealand in 1906 and 1907 but further health problems and disputes with her father, who had sold her mother's extensive Māori land interests, sapped her strength and she was forced to retire.
In 1908 John Howie was appointed collector of customs for the Poverty Bay area, and Fanny lived with him in Gisborne, but eventually her illness made complete rest necessary and she went to live in a house built on ancestral land at Maungaroa, near Te Kaha. In the latter part of her life she taught singing and composed songs, some of which are still sung today. Her most famous composition is 'Hine e hine'. She painted her favourite flowers – roses, pansies and violets – into the kōwhaiwhai patterns on the rafters of the Te Whānau-ā-Kaiāio meeting house at Te Kaha.
Fanny Howie died at Ōpōtiki on 20 May 1916, and was buried at Maungaroa, under a pōhutukawa tree. She was survived by an adopted son and her husband, who was later buried at her side. The solitary roadside grave is marked by a headstone and plaque.