Aida Studios is proud to present "This Is Who I Am" the debut classical album from renowned violinist and mezzo soprano Tona Brown.
"This Is Who I Am" pays homage to the legacy and influence to African Americans that have gone uncelebrated in the classical music world.
The significance of this album lies in its uniqueness: for every perennial revisit to the works of European cultures in the classical world, there are precious few presenting the output of classical-trained African American composers, and even fewer of those efforts are widely publicized. A typical year may see several artists, quite openly, recording or performing the same particular piece by titans like Beethoven or Brahms. The rest of the years programming is usually left for the ongoing cycle of slightly lesser known composers, the avant-garde and one shot typically (contemporary) premieres. Within this scheme, works by African Americans from the early 20th century simply find very little room to thrive. While treasured by Aficionados, the works true value is lost without a consistent push to understand their relevance.
The works featured on "This Is Who I Am" are also unique in the depth they bring to the narrative of African American oral history and lesser known literary works. For example, while many undoubtedly know of Langston Hughes poem "I, Too," few may be aware that during the Harlem Renaissance, he frequently collaborated with pianist and composer Margaret Bonds, who set that text and two others of her own music in a cycle "Three Dream Portraits" (1959). Bonds was an important active artist during the peak of Harlem culture, forming her own chamber society to perform the works of African American composers. Such a consistent, passionate advocate is the only way for any works, no matter how great, to survive.
Tona Brown's own passion for these works comes from knowing that they are integral to her culture as an African American. Tona believes that for classical music to go forward and be inclusive, the audience base has to broaden their horizons to consider more African American points of view and acknowledge African American artists and composers. This will allow the classical music world audiences to expand and diversify. More deeply, her mentors, chief among them pianist Geraldine Boone, taught her the importance of singing and playing songs that tell the oral history of her own ancestors, and not those implicitly packaged into the category of "classical", allowing her to tap into the soul encapsulated into the melodies and harmonies.
Ultimately, this album is concerned with the question of identity. As a woman of transgendered experience, "This Is Who I AM" is a natural outgrowth of Tona's personal exploration of how we think and feel about who we are. By advocating for this repertoire, it is her hope to contribute another facet to the public understanding and conversation of African American contributions to the great fabric of America.