Black Violin bends genres, inspires youth
The classical hip-hop duo Black Violin, composed of classically-trained violist Wilner Baptiste (Wil B.) and violinist Kevin Sylvester (Kev Marcus), has been smashing musical stereotypes for more than a decade.
The two musicians met in orchestra class at Dillard High School for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Years later, they reconnected after attending separate colleges in South Florida and combined their love for hip-hop music with their classical training to form Black Violin. The duo performs with DJ SPS and drummer Nat Stokes.
Black Violin’s breakthrough moment came with a win at “Showtime at the Apollo” in 2005. The duo’s appearance on the talent competition set the stage for what was to come next.
“It solidified us mentally. It made us really realize that we had something special,” says Wil B., speaking to the Banner recently by phone. “That gave us the confidence to really go full force.”
Since then, they have recorded three albums, with the third, “Stereotypes,” marking their major label debut on Universal Music. “Stereotypes” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Classical Crossover chart and No. 4 on the Billboard R&B chart. The band released the song “Dreamer” and its accompanying video last fall, and they plan to release a fourth album this summer.
Black Violin’s genre-bending sound, which has been described as “classical boom,” has exposed them to an ever-growing fan base and opened the door to numerous opportunities. They performed at President Obama’s inauguration ball in 2013, headlined their own show on Broadway, and opened for Kanye West in Dubai and Jay-Z in Switzerland. They have collaborated with Alicia Keys, Wu-Tang Clan, Aerosmith, Lil Wayne and Wyclef Jean. In 2016, the duo composed the score for the Fox television series “Pitch.”
Currently on their “Impossible Tour,” which began in January, Black Violin is slated to perform through the summer, with a stop at The Wilbur in Boston on Friday, April 5 at 8 p.m. The Impossible Tour began shortly after the group wrapped last year’s successful Classical Boom Tour, which included more than 90 concerts and back-to-back sold-out performances at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
In addition to the group’s own tours, Black Violin has performed for more than 100,000 students and in more than 125 public shows across the U.S. and Europe, and they often have young people join them on stage. For Baptiste and Sylvester, who were exposed to music in middle school, it’s about sharing their love of music and its many possibilities to as wide an audience as possible.
Part of what fuels them, they say, is the way that the kids’ eyes light up when they see Black Violin perform.
“I know for sure that something about what we do completely transforms them,” says Baptiste, a father of three young children.
Sylvester and Baptiste are strong proponents for educational outreach. In 2017 they were announced as Turnaround Artists for Mary M. Bethune Elementary School in their hometown of Broward County, Florida. Turnaround Arts, founded by President Obama’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities in 2011, is a national education program of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts that infuses arts into struggling schools to support overall reform efforts.
The musicians say they love being involved in the program and with an organization they believe in.
“This is what we’re about. This is what we’re meant for,” says Baptiste. “This is what I’m here to do. If I have something, I want to be able to give it back to the universe.”
On the web
Black Violin: http://blackviolin.net/
Info/tickets for April 5 Boston show: https://thewilbur.com/artist/black-violin/
Turnaround Arts program: http://turnaroundarts.kennedy-center.org