I've talked a few times about Tona Brown and had the pleasure of doing my first TransGriot Ten Questions Interview with her. She's shared her classically trained vocal talents at various community events including becoming the first transperson to sing for a sitting US president.
Now you get the opportunity to hear what President Obama and countless others did as she releases a new CD entitled This Is Who I Am and I get the pleasure of interviewing her about this new project.
TransGriot- Congratulations Tona on the release of this new musical endeavor. How long has this project been in the works?
TB-This Project has been in the works for a little over a year. It was
recorded at Norfolk State University with my mentor, pianist and
vocalist Geraldine Boone, and engineer Gerald Thompson last summer. We
decided to make a little video and post it on youtube, to let my fans
experience what it was like to record it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ju1o5ebbg2s We had so much fun! Be sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel to keep up with my V-blog posts!
TransGriot- What motivated you to create This Is Who I Am?
TB-This Is Who I Am was created because of conversations I had
with Ms. Boone about how we did not see enough diversity in concert
programming. African Americans have contributed enormously to classical
music, but you wouldn't know that if you looked at the playbills and
programs around the country that only play their music maybe once a
year—or you would have to attend a National Association of Negro
Musicians function or special program put on by African Americans like
the African American Art Song society, etc.
I wanted to change that and showcase a few of
the works that I love and enjoy. I also make sure that I also program a
piece by an African American composer in all my recitals whether it's a Negro spiritual or art song or even aria as an encore. I feel this is
the only way to preserve our music and to encourage others to do the
Also I have been asked by fans around the
world to produce an album, and the pressure to produce something that
really felt like ME was tremendous. I love the works of European
composers as well, but I felt that my first project needed to reflect
who I am as an African American woman raised in the south. Many of
these tunes I would hear in church, or my grandmother would hum them in
the kitchen while cooking. These songs, like jazz, are American music,
so I also feel it is my obligation to keep this music alive!
TransGriot- What musical styles can we expect to hear when we purchase it for our music collections?
TB-What makes this music so amazing is that you hear influences of Gospel,
Jazz, and Blues in these songs. Each song tells a story and when I am
on stage presenting them I feel like my ancestors are standing right
behind me. The music is very difficult to perform and to play, as many
an accompanist have found. The arrangements are virtuosic and you must
have a unique sense of rhythm in order to pull them off. I'm honored to
be able to present these works to so many people, many of whom have never heard them before.
TransGriot- I touched on it in the intro, but what was it like singing for President Obama and how did that historic opportunity happen for you?
TB-Singing at the LGBT Leadership Conference was incredible, but what many
didn't know was how stressful that night was. Unlike any other
President, Barack Obama took an enormous risk coming forth with his
support of our community, and we were told that evening that there may
be a protest developing outside the Sheraton Hotel in NYC. Thankfully
it did not happen, and I did at least feel safe with the security over a
block long all around the premises. But at that moment it felt very
real. I knew I was a part of history. I knew what it felt like to be
Marian Anderson and know that just because you are singing for something
you believe in you could possibly lose your life or be hurt. I was
willing to take that chance and would do it again if I were called
TransGriot -Are you planning to release any more CD's in the near future?
TB-Indeed I am. I would love to do more projects like this. It's
imperative that this album does well, so that it can help me to do
another album that will be somewhat like a part two of this project.
There are hundreds of such art songs and violin pieces by various
composers that most people have never heard. But the future is very
bright for me and everyone will notice that I am collaborating with
various artists outside of classical music over the next two years.
TransGriot -What do you envision happening in your musical career in the next five years?
TB-In the next five years, I envision more collaborative projects with
artists of all genres. Music is music and I would love to work with
R&B, Jazz and Hip Hop artists to produce great music for people of
I am also working hard to produce some recordings with my chamber ensemble the Aida String ensemble (www.aidastrings.com) while developing my music instruction business Aida Studios. http://www.facebook.com/AidaStudios
Please encourage your followers to join me on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/pages/Tona-Brown/105772866142812 or my Aida Studios page on Facebook to see what my amazing students of all ages are doing.
I am also on Twitter at Tonacity and my own website is www.tonabrown.com
Tona, thanks so much for your time and good luck with this first of what I hope are many more CD releases for you.