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Classical musician Tona Brown shares her story with St. Louis’ Chris King in ‘Tonacity’

Tona Brown and Chris King turned a feature interview into a friendship and now Brown's memoir, 'Tonacity: The Tona Brown Story'
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Tona Brown
Tona Brown and Chris King turned a feature interview into a friendship and now Brown's memoir, "Tonacity: The Tona Brown Story."

Violinist and mezzo-soprano Tona Brown lives life on her own terms. That determination is the subject of a new memoir narrated by St. Louis-based writer Chris King.

Over 50 hours of recorded conversations between Brown and King are distilled into “Tonacity: The Tona Brown Story.” In the memoir, King narrates Brown’s life and achievements from their first encounter in 2005 — when Brown was touring with the Tranny Road Show and King was the managing editor for the St. Louis American. “I think [King] was the first person who said, ‘The world needs to know about what you’re doing,’” Brown told St. Louis on the Air on Tuesday.

The connection between King and Brown began with a simple interview request. It resulted in an 18-year friendship between the musician and writer. During that time, Brown toured the country, taught and released music, and later became the first openly transgender person to perform in front of a sitting U.S. president, President Barack Obama, in 2011.

Brown told St. Louis on the Air that her family was supportive of her gender expression and music career, but that they worried about her being “out” and how it might affect her livelihood. While she has found great success in her career, she said that there was still plenty of damage dealt because of intolerance and anti-trans bigotry. “The damage is systemic,” she noted. “I was never able to get corporate sponsorship for my events, and that’s important because the arts already struggle. Different organizations would shy away once they find out that I’m the one who’s headlining because they’re scared of their funders.”

Rather than being repelled by Brown’s identity, King was compelled to work with her and get “The Tona Brown Story” to the masses. “On one hand, she’s a classical musician. On the other hand, she’s sort of like a sex symbol,” King said. “Her candor and her humor comes through in the book. I just love talking to her.”

For more on Tona Brown’s memoir including Brown’s fascination with Black composers, Negro spirituals and the origin of Brown’s first name, listen to St. Louis on the Air on Apple Podcast, Spotify or Google Podcast, or by clicking the play button below.

Classical musician Tona Brown shares her story with St. Louis’ Chris King in ‘Tonacity’

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Ulaa Kuziez is our production intern. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org

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Miya is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air."