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  • Carolyn Gauthier

Performer Profile: Tony Saunders

Updated: May 18, 2020

Last February Tony Saunders was doing a show at Holderman Hospital at the Veterans Home in Yountville for a Black History program when a vet rolled up in a wheelchair and said “Y-NOT!” That‘s the nickname he had given Tony – his name spelled backwards – 30 years ago. “The guy was crying because I remembered him,” Tony said as he had called his production company Y-NOT. “When you do something that touches people, it’s worth more than money.”

The son of Merl Saunders (Saunders/Garcia Band), Tony grew up in a musical household. He received an Emmy when he was 14-years-old with his father for the children's special Soul Is, a PBS documentary featuring African American poetry accompanied by Tony on the bass. He earned a second Emmy for an episode of Digital Journey titled China The Digital Economy. Saunders has scored movies, corporate videos, TV shows and commercials. He has also produced many CDs, primarily out of his home Studio 1281.

Tony's first solo CD Bigger than Outside was released in October 2011 and remained on the charts for 70 weeks. His latest solo album Sexy Somethin’ was released March 16, 2020 and went to number one in the nation last week on the Smooth Jazz chart.

Tony has been volunteering in various musical capacities for our program at San Quentin for the last seven years. He has performed big shows on the yard and for smaller groups in the chapel, given workshops and taught inmate musicians, and was part of a collective choir project that brought interfaith singers and musicians together. “It is a very humbling situation to go in and work with the men. Their smiles are worth a million dollars. And I am always grateful to be able to walk out of the prison.”

His first performance at San Quentin was for the Day of Peace in 2013. “It was kind of shocking to be around prisoners and see what was going on inside. Now I have a different outlook. They are human beings who got into trouble. The ones I talked to are trying to do better. They’re on a higher plane. They give so much thanks for your time.”

Lately, Tony is “doing time” in his home studio. He writes music and broadcasts a live stream on his Facebook page every Wednesday at 5 pm. “I have been confined since March 16. I have a new outlook on being isolated. Everything we know as normal is not normal.” Saunders says, “My faith is getting me through. We’re going to pull out of this and be a better country. God will shine a light down and clear this up eventually. I’m waiting for that day.”

Tony Saunders is one of the many volunteer performers who says that he gets more out of doing the shows than he thought possible. “You feel instant gratification. A guy at San Quentin told me it was the first concert he’d ever been to. He was amazed by how much I put into the performance.” That meant a lot to Tony.

“It’s a pleasure to work with Bread & Roses. Everybody is first class. The mission is to make people happy. That’s my personal Disneyland!”

By Carolyn Gauthier, Vice President, Programs

Photo/Video Credits:

1) Tony Saunders with an old friend at the Veterans Home in Yountville. Photo by Marian Hubler.

2) Tony Saunders on bass and William Greene on percussion for their Black History Month concert in February 2020 at Holderman Hospital at the Veterans Home Yountville. Video by Marian Hubler.

3) Tony performing at the Day of Peace event at San Quentin State Prison in 2017. Photo by Peter Merts.

4) Tony gives a personal testimonial at the 2017 JAM. Video and editing by Andrew Kaluzynski.

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