Meet Multitalented Musician Tonina Saputo

At just 23, St. Louis-based singer/songwriter, upright bassist, and poet Tonina Saputo has accomplished more than many artists twice her age. As a high school student, she performed with her school’s symphonic orchestra at both Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center in New York City. She led the bass sections of both the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra and the Missouri All-State Orchestra, experiences that she says provided the solid foundation she needed to launch her professional career.

“It taught me to be a leader because, as section leader, I had to make sure I was available to answer any questions and be responsible for my section and how good we sounded,” she says. “It really made me buckle down even more than I already was and focus on my own stuff‡.”

Tonina first began playing the upright bass at age 9, inspired by her bassist father and influenced by her parents’ collective musical tastes.

“My mom listened to more classical music and baroque and was also a lover of classic rock. Fleetwood Mac was our family’s favorite band,” Tonina says. “She also loved Motown, and my dad did, too. They had that in common, but my dad was a jazz lover. That was his favorite genre. He introduced me to Charlie Mingus and he was the first bassist I fell in love with.”

Accepted to Boston’s esteemed Berklee College of Music at 17, she left in 2014 to study bass performance at Berklee’s campus in Valencia, Spain, where she met Grammy-winning producer and songwriter Javier Limón. She signed with his label, Casa Limón, and collaborated with him on her multilingual album, Black Angel, released in April 2018.

Working with Limón was a dream come true for a longtime fan, and the album is a marriage of their styles and cultures.

“He comes from a flamenco background and I’m coming from more of a pop/R&B background, so we decided to merge the two,” she says. “We recorded the album two years ago and then decided to do it again live because it just wasn’t all the things that were me.”

In addition to original songs in Spanish written by Limón, the album includes carefully chosen covers that reflect Tonina’s unique heritage.

“I have Nat King Cole en español, because my father was a huge Nat King Cole fan,” she says. “The Beatles represent me being an American raised with the epitome of rock-and-roll, a cover in Sicilian because my mom’s family is from Sicily, and then a Nina Simone song that represents my black womanhood.”

Tonina is currently performing a weekly gig at The Dark Room at The Grandel in the Grand Center Arts District of St. Louis as part of the Kranzberg Arts Foundation’s Music Artists in Residence program.