Notable people often publish memoirs in summation of their storied lives and accomplishments. There’s usually a recounting of successes and highlights that illustrate their journey from obscurity to stardom, while omitting the chapters they don’t want to speak out loud. That’s the usual fare for a carefully curated bio. Every once in a while, however, in the pantheon of celebrities, media personalities, advocates, or history-making individuals, an unvarnished autobiography comes along, that captures the reader’s undivided attention, because of its candor and authenticity. Tonacity (The Tona Brown Story), an engaging new book by gifted, trailblazing violinist and vocalist Tona Brown, is such a volume. Brown, who has written her name into the annals of history as the first Black, trans woman to both perform the National Anthem before a sitting American president, and just a few years later, headline a Carnegie Hall concert, is now relating the “herstory” of her fascinating life.

The tome, presented as a series of interviews between Brown and retired  St. Louis American Managing Editor Chris King, takes the reader on a wide-ranging tour of Brown’s life and challenges as a transwoman of color, professional musician, LGBTQ advocate, and host of the Conversations With Tona Brown podcast. The discussions between Brown and King leave nothing unexplored. The topics run all the way from Brown’s transition at a young age, to enduring childhood sexual trauma, persevering to discover her gifts for music, the way her gender identity has shaped her own self-perception (and that of others), to the challenge of dating men who were unready to accept their attraction for transwomen. There’s a lot to unpack here!

Brown, (also assisted by editor Meghan Sheehy) approaches her narrative forthrightly and unflinchingly. In yesterday’s (and today’s) pervasive anti-LGBTQ political and social climate, Brown must navigate transphobic people (and institutions, like the COGIC Church), in her pursuit of peace and achievement in her life. “When I started working with Chris,” Brown recalls, “I told him I wanted to ask me the hard questions, and I said I would always answer honestly.” This Brown does throughout, whether speaking about her transition and the medical therapies she underwent, or a disturbing dating experience with a killer on the lam from the police. Nothing is off the table, which makes Tonacity such a compelling read.

Beyond the escapades and Brown’s emergence as an artist and teacher (as the owner of Aida Studios in Alexandria, VA, she tutors students young and old alike to become professional musicians), Tonacity unsparingly educates the reader about the realities of life as a transwoman of color in America. There’s even a guide of terminology at the beginning, and the book is supported by plenty of annotation at the end, for scholarly provenance. Tonacity is a work of discovery and overcoming, and won’t disappoint the casual reader, or the serious student of gender identity studies. It’s an exquisitely woven tapestry, rich with detail, that will bring you right into Brown’s amazing world. You can get it in paperback or Kindle edition at Amazon. (A hardcover version is on its way.) Brown’s living “herstory” is waiting for you.