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Perpetual Change: Trans Music — Tona Brown

| Jul 4, 2016
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Tona Brown

Tona Brown

Back in July 2009, TGForum introduced Tona Brown to our readers for the first time. She is an amazing classically trained violinist who works with several different groups and ensembles. She has also started recording and is now even adding the talent of vocalist to her long resume’. So, we are very pleased to post this recent interview with Ms. Tona Brown, so she can bring everyone up to speed on all the details of her current work.

TGForum: Are you still involved with the Aida Sting Quartet, Radiance, and Elegance by Deux? I understand than all these groups are sort of intertwined, correct?

Tona Brown: The Aida Sting ensemble is my group and the other groups were groups that I would perform with for various events. Elegance by Deux is no longer performing, unfortunately, as the leader of the ensemble works in the medical field now. At this point, I usually contract my own events when I play with ensembles unless it’s subbing for local orchestras in the DC metro area.

TGF: When we spoke last time, you mentioned that you were just starting to focus on your vocals. How are you progressing in this area?

TB: Wow, I forgot that it’s been since 2009 since I have talked to you guys. I have performed with a few local opera companies in DC and Baltimore. The most memorable was singing the role La Zia Principessa from the opera Sour Angelica with the Singer’s Theatre of Washington. It was so much fun and my vocal coach is the president of the opera company. I was asked to fill in for another singer who got sick and I only had three weeks to learn the role. I was pleasantly surprised at how perfect the role fit my voice! I also recorded an EP entitled This Is Who I Am that can be found on CDBaby and iTunes. It’s my tribute to African American composers.

tona_brown02-07-16TGF: Since you have a varied musical background, but are largely known as a classical musician, would your vocal focus be in that genré as well? Are you considering other types of music vocally, and do you have an ultimate goal as a vocalist?

TB: I wouldn’t mind singing on some tracks of various genrés actually vocally, if the message is something I believe in. I find that a lot of the modern music of today doesn’t really have a message and musically it’s not as fulfilling as say musical theatre or even some country and folk music. As far as music that I think would fit my voice type, it would probably be R&B, blues and jazz.

TGF: What can you tell us about your recording work?

TB: I have been busy in that area. Besides recording my EP This Is Who I Am, I’ve also recorded with “out” artists such as Nhojj Song on his latest album He’s Got A Way (can be found on iTunes). The Aida Sting ensemble featuring Robin Fay Massie-Pighee on viola, Jason Labrador on violin, and cellist Kevin Jones and I played on two of the tracks. I was so pleased to find out that he was a huge fan of my work after seeing me perform at the 2011 Out Music Awards. I also had the pleasure to perform with Laura Jane Grace, the rock star from the band Against Me! at Jazz At The Lincoln Center. We are talking about doing some recording and future performances. What an amazing artist. I played Bamboo Bones with the band and it was tons of fun.

TGF: Any further involvement with the Tranny Road Show?

TB: No. I’m not sure that they still tour anymore. I wish them the best of luck.

TGF: In our last interview, you had mentioned that you had sort of faced something of a “double whammy” when it came to performing with orchestras. By that, I mean that you had mentioned that you had faced discrimination as a person of color as well as being a trans person. Has this changed any?

tona_brown07-16TB: It will take a while for that to change. I feel that classical music contractors can be a bit discriminatory in general when it comes to who they hire for various events. But it’s okay with me because I never wanted to be an orchestral musician. I’ve learned over time I’m meant to be a soloist and chamber musician.

I’m optimistic that with all the work the transgender community is doing to educate the masses on who we are that one day we will see more transgender people performing in all genrés in the music industry.

TGF: What kind of audiences have you been performing for?

TB: I’m pleased to say all sorts of audiences. I really love playing for large events, award shows, festivals and sacred music events. Many of the larger non-profits do contact me and can afford to pay me and my accompanist to performs. For example, on April 11th I performed for A Night Of A Thousand Genders run by the Ackerman Institute’s gender and family project. Their organization does a lot of work in NYC to support transgender youth and their families. So I’m very pleased to perform for events like this one.

TGF: Being a musician who is transgender, do you get any support from the transgender community?

TB: It’s interesting that you ask that. I don’t think that I really pay attention to it because of the type of music I perform. I normally don’t see many people (in the transgender community) at the events I am hired to perform for generally. I think if there is anything I will say about this is that I do get a lot of support from transgender people online particularly on Facebook and Twitter.

Tona with President Obama.

Tona with President Obama.

TGF: What’s the story behind that picture of you and President Obama?

TB: I was asked to perform the National Anthem for the LGBT Leadership Conference at the Sheraton in NYC. It was a night I will never forget. I saw so many familiar faces and saw the look of astonishment from many in the audience who want to know who I was! It was a packed house of about 1200 people to help raise money for the administration. I was deeply honored to have been chosen. Afterwards I was allowed an opportunity to speak with President Barack Obama and have a photo with him. It was an amazing experience.

TGF: What kind of music are you listening to these days?

TB: You know, my friends laugh at me about my music selections in the car because I listen to a little of everything. I might be listening to Schubert Lieder one second and rap the next. I do listen to a lot of old school R&B because I love harmony, rhythm and melody. There was a time when people really did have to sing and sing well! It’s shocking to see what we accept these days! I can’t wait till real singing comes back “in style.” (Author’s Note: a huge AMEN to that!!)

TGF: If you don’t mind, please talk a bit about the new interview series that you’re starting.

TB: I’m very excited about Conversations With Tona Brown. Hashtag:#CWTB. Conversations With Tona Brown is a YouTube series that I also film live on Facebook for my friends and fans so people can see the behind-the-scenes work. We then edit them and put them on YouTube. I interview dynamic people of all walks of life that I meet along my travels or that I feel have a different perspective on life to help encourage others to live their life the fullest. You will see discussions on everything from sexuality, men who are attracted to trans women, to artists or politicians. I want to show the world that there is a way to interview anyone with respect no matter what their sexual orientation or gender identity is.

TGF: Are these interviews conducted online, in person, by phone, etc.?

TB: As of now, all my interviews are in person. I love that feeling of sitting next to someone and feeling their energy. I’m sure there will be some very busy people that I will have to do interviews with online. But if I can make it happen in person, then I’m there. As a performing artist I find that I meet so many interesting an dynamic people. Why not share them with the world?

TGF: In closing, any final thoughts?

TB: Only that people can see what I’m doing either on Facebook: theofficailtonabrown Twitter: @tonacity IG @Tonacity, or my personal website.

Also, please don’t forget to check out Tona’s CD available through iTunes and CDBaby.


Calpernia Addams

Cal Addams has a new YouTube video out, Calpernia Live at Leipzig, Germany @ UT Connewitz. Very interesting in that she’s focusing on her music and vocals. Check it out, as well as her website.

David de Alba

This is a reminder of David de Alba’s upcoming on August 18 in Las Vegas, at MVIG Cultural Arts Center, inside Boulevard Mall, near Macy’s. On a sad note, Linda La Blanche, a close friend of David de Alba and  the musical arranger and musician for all of his CDs passed away recently due to the lingering effects of an auto accident a year ago. David is dedicating his August show in Las Vegas to her memory. For information, 701-339-0948, or [email protected]; also check out


Dangerous Woman by Ariana Grande

ariana-grande-dangerous-woman-cover-art-2016-billboard-650Okay, so the first thing I noticed about this new project of Ariana Grande’s is the rabbit ear mask she’s wearing on the cover. Makes her look like some sort of Bondage Bunny. (…wow, Bondage Bunny would be a great name for a band…but, I digress..)

Dangerous Woman, the deluxe edition, is just that — deluxe in that it contains 16 tracks. This is probably one of the most overall laid back projects I’ve heard in a long time. Having said that, though, don’t get the impression that it’s that way throughout. However, even the dance/techno material such as Be Alright, Into You, Bad Decision, Tough It, I Don’t Care, Know Better/Forever Boy, and Thinking Bout You are not real up-tempos tracks.

Grande includes several tracks with other artists, such as Nicki Minaj on Side To Side, Lil Wayne on Let Me Love You, Leave Me Lonely with Macy Gray, and Everyday with Future.

There are also a couple forays into musical territory you might not associate with Ariana Grade. The CD opens with Moonlight, which has a 1960s girl group feel to it. The other real surprise is a song called Sometimes, which is light rock.

There are three real outstanding tracks on the project. The title song, Dangerous Woman, while it is sort of laid back techno in feel, is nonetheless Grande’s best vocal performance. The best overall production is found on Greedy, which is techno/light rock/dance, with excellent harmony vocals, and something very close to a disco feel. The bonus track, Step On up-Jason’s Song (Gave It Away) starts with a very percussive, up tempo drum section. It was something I wasn’t expecting to hear.


Ariana Grande has one of those voices that fits her material in the proverbial hand-in-glove fashion. She’s effortless vocally on every track on Dangerous Woman.

Grande shares executive producer credits on Dangerous Woman with Max Martin and Savan Kotecha. You’ll have to check out the CD insert for proper producer and musician credits for each track. (; also on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram)

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Category: Music

Pam Degroff

About the Author ()

Pamela DeGroff been writing for TGForum since the start of 1999. Her humor column, The Pamela Principle, ran until 2005. She started the Perpetual Change music column in May of 1999, and in 2008, Angela Gardner came up with the idea for the Transvocalizers column and put Pam to work on that. Pamela was a regular contributor to Transgender Community News until that magazine's demise. While part of a support group in Nashville called The Tennessee Vals she began writing for their newsletter, and also wrote for several local GLBT alternative newspapers in Tennessee. Pamela is currently a staff reporter for a small town daily paper in Indiana, and is also a working musician.

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