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New album, shout-out from former president boosts career of St. Louis musician Tonina Saputo

Saputo still doesn't know how Barack Obama found her music

ST. LOUIS — For singer-songwriter-musician Tonina Saputo, her love of music started with The Lion King.

"I'm going to be honest. It was 'The Lion King', I wanted to harmonize with Simba and that's how it started. I love 'The Lion King'," said Saputo. "Who doesn't?"

Years of classical training as a bassist, a nurturing music program at Kirkwood High School and a degree from the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston have set the stage for a music career that got a boost from a former president.

Last December, Saputo got the thrill of a lifetime when former president Barack Obama released his annual list of favorite books, movies, and music. Included on the list were the likes of Prince, Jay Z and Beyonce, and Janelle Monae. Also on Obama's list was Tonina Saputo's "Historia De Un Amor". 

"I didn’t know what to do. I lost all functionality in all my limbs," said Saputo. "I tried to walk. I couldn’t. I started crying. I called my mom. Screams."

Many of the other artists were Saputo's heroes.

"I just was like, is there a mistake? Is there a typo? Did someone accidentally like copy and paste my name like on this list?"

Within the last year, Saputo also received recognition from NPR as one of the 40 best new artists of 2018. With a new album that drops Friday, and an international tour to Argentina, Spain, England, and Italy, Saputo is close to realizing her dream of making a living as a musician.

"I'm in the very beginning stages of my career as far as touring, as far as being in full control of my music," said Saputo. "So this is the first album that I worked on where I'm a fully independent artist."

Even her name represents a musical legacy. Tonino is named after her uncle, musician Tony Saputo, who died when a plane chartered for Reba McEntire crashed in 1991. Tonina's parents met at the crash site. Her mother wanted to know where her brother died, and her father was in charge of the search and recovery at the crash site. Tonina was named for the uncle she never knew.  

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