Black Violin
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Black Violin

Avon Park, Florida, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2004 | MAJOR

Avon Park, Florida, United States | MAJOR
Established on Jan, 2004
Band Classical Hip Hop




"New & Next: Meet Black Violin, the Hip-Hop Classical Musical Duo Breaking Stereotypes"

Imagine a strong hip-hop beat overlapping a rich, classical melody and transforming into a gritty, classical ensemble. That is the essence of the classical duo Black Violin.

Black Violin, a duo composed of classically trained string musicians, Kevin Sylvester (violin) and Wilner Baptiste (viola), also known as Kev Marcus and Wil B, aim to break ordinary thinking. With their latest album Stereotypes, the duo elicits brilliant music with a poignant message for the world.

"We wanted something that would make you bust through the wall, something to really make you get up and do something and think differently about things," Marcus told ESSENCE. "We decided to message the whole album on breaking stereotypes. We’re big and dark. We travel the world…get on the plane and their like, ‘Oh, so what you got in there? A saxophone?' and you say 'a violin' and 'oh really? A violin?'…It’s so like, in our face, we felt like we can tell that story in a really cool way and use this album to frame this."

The Floridian natives, who've performed for President Barack Obama at the 57th Presidential Inaugural Ball, have also collaborated with some of the most recognized names in the industry, including The Roots, Pharoahe Monch, Melanie Fiona and even played for beat mastermind, Timbaland. The latter happened about 13 years ago, when Marcus and B were desperate to get their feet in the door.

"I remember we were trying to play at Timbaland’s [30th] birthday party. It was like 2002. We go to the club early and tried to talk to the promoter. They’re not giving us no time of day, so my manager opens his trunk and plays something off the radio. It was J-Kwon’s Tipsy… and we’re playing on top of that beat and people just stop. And the promoter of the club was like ‘Yo that’s crazy, you wanna play at the club tonight for free?' We go in that night and we play a bunch of Timbaland songs and people’s reactions to it were crazy! They didn’t even know what to do with that.”

The duo, who describe their sound as "hard hitting beats with lush strings," continue to make crowds go wild, only this time they say that they aim to do it while "tackling racial strife in America." Their new video, “Stereotypes,” hits the audience with strong visuals of protests, as well as instrumental and dance performance.

"Just because the violin is only played one way doesn’t mean that’s the only way it could be played. Don’t aim for the stereotypes. Only aim to break them,” Marcus said. “We get off the stage and it’s just like, 'I didn’t even know the violin could do the things you were doing with it and it’s a black dude playing this thing.' It’s just a perception changer and it’s a big deal for us."

Stereotypes drops September 18th and is now available for pre order on iTunes. - Essence Magazine

"A Few Minutes with Black Violin"

Black Violin’s Wil Baptiste talks to Pollstar about touring, music education and how Stereotypes is the perfect name for the duo’s new album. “We’re two big black guys playing the violin. I mean, we’re breaking stereotypes every time we step on stage.”
Not to mention that Black Violin breaks the conventional mold of what you’d expect a couple of violinists to sound like, thanks to the group’s blend of hip hop and classical music. To be more specific, Kev Marcus plays the violin and Baptiste is on viola and vocals. The musicians are joined on tour by a drummer and DJ. Baptist says the duo’s heavy tour schedule, between 150-200 shows a year, is what’s helped the group continue to evolve.

Batiste has described Black Violin’s sound as “a hard-hitting beat with lush string sounds. Something you can listen to if you don’t listen to hip hop, or if you don’t listen to classical music – we bridge that gap.”

He and Marcus first met in high school orchestra class at Dillard High School of the Performing Arts in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. After attending different colleges and then reconnecting to produce other artists, they formed Black Violin over 10 years ago. Since then they’ve won “Showtime at the Apollo,” worked with a range of artists including Kanye West, Tom Petty and Aerosmith; performed at President Obama’s 2013 inauguration. But they haven’t forgotten the importance of high school orchestra class. The duo gives back by regularly putting on special shows and workshops for students while on tour.
Black Violin’s latest LP and major label debut, Stereotypes, is due out Sept. 18 on Universal Music Classics. Produced by Eli Wolf, the album features special guests MCs Pharoahe Monche and Black Thought, along with singers Melanie Fiona and Kandace Springs, guitarist Eric Krasno (Soulive), pianist Robert Glasper, drummer Daru Jones (Jack White), and string arranger Rob Moose.

Black Violin
Bo Diddley Community PLaza, Gainesville, Fla.
June 26, 2009
(John Davisson)
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You played New York last night. How’s the tour been going?
Tour’s been going great. We’ve been playing the new material on the album and we actually debuted eight new songs in Cleveland Heights. It was received very, very well. We have a huge amount of fans in Cleveland so it was just great. We’re in New York doing a whole bunch of press stuff and we just did a little album release performance last night in Rockwood in New York.

Let’s take a look at a bit of the band’s history. Can you talk about the decision to concentrate on Black Violin rather than producing other artists?
We had the whole label thing going and we had two artists, a rapper and a singer that we were pushing … we started noticing how receptive the crowd was when we performed with our artist, just Kev and I [backing] the artist, just playing violins. We noticed as soon as we starting playing the way that the energy changed. When we tried to sign our artist to this production deal, they [declined] to sign the contract. It’s funny, it’s something that we talk about to this day because they’re our good friends; we’ve known them for years. When they declined it, we were just like, “OK, well let’s just try this – just me and you, Kev. Let’s do this Black Violin artist thing.” And that’s literally how it started.
From then we really just started putting medleys together and performing in all the clubs in Miami. Our first big thing I guess back then was Timbaland’s birthday party. And we just went to the club and we’re like, “Listen, we want to perform at this party.” And obviously the promoter turned us down. We wouldn’t take no for an answer. So our manager at the time, he pumped his trunk and he played the music out and we just [got] the violins out and played right in front of the club. This was like around 6 p.m., 7 p.m. so no one was at the club at the time. But we created a crowd around the club while we were just playing. [The promoter] noticed that [and] he was like, “Aw, that’s kind of cool. Come back around 9:30. Let’s see what we can do.” We would do a whole bunch of that kind of stuff in the very beginning of our career, like literally 12-13 years ago.
Winning at “Showtime at the Apollo” also had an affect on your career.
Oh yeah, I mean, Apollo’s the Apollo. (laughs) … Just being on that stage and rubbing that log. I mean, I was watching Apollo since I knew what TV was. You know what I’m saying? And to be on that show and compete, it was just incredible. We were definitely nervous, though. I remember being downstairs and three acts got booed off stage before we got on stage. So we were looking at these violins and were just, “Oh man, I don’t know.” But it’s funny, everyone that was working there gave us confidence. … We sound checked and they saw the sound check. … One of the guys was like, “You have nothing to worry about. Trust me, you guys are going to win every single show.” And that’s exactly what happened.
You had the chance to perform at President Obama’s inauguration in 2013. How did that come about and what was that experience like?
Aw, man. That was one of the highlights of our career, for sure. Actually, one of the guys that was in charge of putting the inaugurations together came to one of our Broadway shows in 2012 and brought his kids and he really enjoyed the show so when they were putting everything together he wanted us to perform for the kids’ inauguration, and that was incredible by itself. And then he asked us to perform at the actual inauguration, the day after show. And that’s kind of how that came out.
It was just an incredible event ... just being there backstage with Alicia Keys and Smokey Robinson and Jamie Foxx and all these celebrities and being able to meet the President and shake his hand and tell him, “Thank you for making this night special.” It was just incredible to be in that same room.

Black Violin
Wil Baptiste, Kev Marcus
(Lisa Leone)
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Stereotypes is your major label debut. What made you decide to sign with Universal?
Well, we had a few offers on the table from Universal, Sony and some other independent labels and we just felt like Universal Classic had this family-oriented type of vibe. It’s very personable, I can call anyone from the President to the intern and everyone’s just very, very cool. It’s made up of a majority [of] women. But you know what they say, women rule the world. I mean, if there was a woman president I think there would be less issues in the world, particularly in this country.

So I mean, it’s a really, really great vibe here. We just felt really comfortable from the very beginning and we met with different labels trying to figure out exactly what our next step was going to be. And it wasn’t even a question, just how they welcomed us, and not only that. They allowed us to completely be who we are and they didn’t want to change us in any way. They wanted to accept us the way that we are, which is huge for us. Because we’ve been doing this for 10-11 years and we’ve been successful –150 shows a year and touring around the world. We know what it takes. So to have a label come approach us, they had to approach us in that manner. That’s the main reason we decided to go Universal Classic because they allowed us to just be who we are.
That’s great because sometimes you hear about the indie labels having a more family vibe or giving artists more freedom so that’s nice you got that with a major.
Yeah, obviously I can’t speak for everybody but we’ve definitely been having a really great experience with this label. I’m actually at the office right now because we have another video interview. We just stopped by to just talk to them and figure out some things. It’s been pretty good so far. The album comes out Sept. 18. They’re working their butts off, you know. And we’re here to help them in any way. It just feels good.

The new album has been described as the release where you “graduate from multi-genre curiosity to ambitious innovators.” What can you tell us about the evolution of Black Violin over the past few years?
It really comes down to just performance. We’ve performed consistently 150 to 200 shows a year. Doing that, as an artist, you’re able to grow in a way that you can’t if you’re in the studio every day. So it’s a very, very unique way to grow and it’s the best way, to me, to grow. As far as [being] the vocalist in the group, I had to really come out of my shell and I had no choice (laughs) because I had 150 shows [per year]. … The growth and where we are right now with this album from the previous, I mean you can just hear the difference, sonically and just in every way. It’s a natural evolution. And [it’s] mainly because of the performances and the shows that we’ve done and the confidence that we have in what we’re doing. We’re so blessed to be able to grow as artists in that way. Not a lot of artists can tour like we do. But people love us (laughs) and we’re able to tour.
What’s your live show like? You tour with a drummer and also somehow on a turntable.
Yes, we tour with a drummer, Nat Stokes, and our DJ is DJ SPS. And obviously Kev on the violin. Our show is high-energy. It’s basically a rock concert where we’re playing violins. We tell people all the time, our show is just about leaving all the issues and problems at home and coming to a Black Violin concert and completely [being] free.
It’s incredible that we’re able to do that because that’s what music is all about. It’s about expression, obviously. If we can play a song and it brings out some emotion, whether it’s sadness or happiness or whatever, we feel like we’ve done our job. That’s what coming to a Black Violin concert is all about, having a great time and bringing the whole family, whether it’s your cousin, your father, your mother, your kids, bring them all. Even that uncle or that cousin that you really don’t like, bring him too and you guys can have a good time together and have a good conversation after the show.
We encourage the crowd to stand up and dance and just be free. (laughs) Don’t do anything too crazy; they might kick you out of the theatre. But it’s just about having a good time and being free to be who you are. For an hour and a half, cut loose.
You’ve been quoted as saying your goal as a performer is for people to return home and be better people. Can you talk about your vision for Stereotypes? Right off the bat with the first few tracks, the album includes positive messages and social commentary.
Absolutely. We understand as artists we have responsibilities, we have a lot of fans, a lot of kids who really, really look up to us. This album is called Stereotypes and one of the main reasons why is because, you know, we’re two big black guys playing the violin. I mean, we’re breaking stereotypes every time we step on stage. The violin is our vehicle to change perspectives and to do something different that nobody has even done. We tell the kids and adults alike the same thing. We tell them, “Listen, it’s not necessarily about the violin, It’s about doing something different with your passion, whatever that thing is that you cannot stop thinking about.” … So, that’s pretty much our message – think outside the box, reach for the stars and be who you are, don’t be afraid to be different. I think our album really embodies and empowers that message.

Black Violin

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What was it like working with producer Eli Wolf?
It was great working with him. When the label suggested Eli Wolf, we were like, “Definitely.” He worked with Norah Jones and Robert Glasper, artists that we’re definitely fans of. We thought it would be a really, really great pairing because he’s worked with a lot of diverse artists. We’re as diverse as you can get. … I think we both kind of approached the project [as a] blank canvas. It worked out.
Do you have any favorite tracks from Stereotypes?
Definitely the first one, “Stereotypes.” I love performing that one. “Another Chance” is dope; I like that. I like all of them (laughs). Let’s see … “Runnin’” is one of my favorites too. And … “Magic,” for sure. (laughs) If I keep going I’ll mention the whole album.
Stereotypes features several special guests on the album. I love the song “Invisible,” with Pharoahe Monch.
I mean, he just completely destroyed that record. He completely embodied what the song is about. When we started thinking about an MC that we wanted on that song it was just a no-brainer. Like, I knew he would have done that. (laughs) I’m not even surprised that he killed it.

You and Kev are really passionate about music education. You’ve visited with thousands of kids over the years. Do you still make time to visit schools?
Definitely. A lot of times what happens is the theatres [will] put that in their program. We’ll get there and we’ll do a morning show and we’ll do a workshop maybe after the show. And then do the night show. We definitely try and encourage the theatres to bring the community out, not only that but bring the kids out. … If there’s no time to do an actual show [for the kids], we’re open to going to one of the schools and doing a workshop. It’s something that we not only enjoy but we feel like it’s needed. We’ve got to build these younger kids that probably don’t really like classical music, probably don’t even really understand what it is. We can approach it in a different way. They can see the instrument in a different way. And open their minds. [They won’t] necessarily pick up the violin, but maybe listen to a classical piece.
Do you have any advice for kids who are just starting out with music?
The key for us is just to be yourself because no one can really express what I’m expressing or play the way that I’m playing. They can, I guess, be better than me but they can’t necessarily express what I’m expressing. We’ve been blessed to be able to just be ourselves and people are really, really receptive to it. So that’s one of the main things I would tell a young kid that’s playing an instrument. Also, patience. Particularly the violin, it’s one of those instruments that we come across so many people who played it in fourth grade or fifth grade and quit. You get frustrated very, very easily picking up an instrument because you’re listening to professional musicians play really well and you’re like, “Argh! I want to get to their level.” So it takes a lot of patience. … You learn how to be patient so you can be patient with everything else in your life. - Pollstar

"Black Violin performs at 2013 Inauguration"

What an incredible start to 2013!! Black Violin kicks off the year by performing for President of the United States, Barack Obama and the First Lady, Michelle Obama at his Inauguration in Washington D.C. The evening’s performers included Black Violin, Usher, Katy Perry, Stevie Wonder, Smokie Robinson, Alicia Keys, Jennifer Hudson, Jamie Foxx, and Marc Anthony. Check out these AMAZING pictures from our unforgettable night at the Inaugural Ball - Black Violin

"Black Violin performs at Dave Grohl’s keynote conference speech at SXSW"

This classically trained hip-hop duo from South Florida played before Dave Grohl’s keynote conference speech at SXSW. They got as big a standing ovation from the crowd as the Foo Fighter. Wil B is on viola and Kev Marcus on violin; they’ve described themselves as “the biggest independent group that no one has ever heard of.” Until, that was, the Obamas invited them to play their Inaugural Ball.Now they’ve performed with Alicia Keys and Kendrick Lamar as well. Their album, Black Violin – Classically Trained is out on 7 May. Someone book them a Sunday-afternoon slot at Glastonbury. - SXSW

"Showtime Sports “Floyd Mayweather vs. Canelo Alvarez All Access”"

Showtime Sports released it’s new commercial for “Floyd Mayweather vs. Canelo Alvarez All Access” featuring Black Violin performing our hit song “Virtuoso.” This commercial is part of a one year partnership between Black Violin and Showtime Sports so look out for more boxing “Virtuosos” to be profiled using this fresh BV record. The #MoneyTeam is in the building!! - Showtime Sports


Black Violin-Black Violin
Black Violin-Classically Trained

Black Violin-Stereotypes (Universal Classics) 2015



It’s hard to think of another African-American violin player to make their mark in popular music, so classically trained South Florida twosome, Wilner “Wil B” Baptiste and Kevin “Kev Marcus” Sylvester, who go by the name Black Violin are a welcome revelation for their ability to meld highbrow and pop culture, “Brandenburg” and “breakdown,” into a single genre-busting act. The band’s most recent album, Classically Trained, is the follow-up to their 2007 self-titled debut on their own Di-Versatile Music Group label, which is as good an introduction to their groundbreaking blend of classical, hip-hop, rock, R&B, and even bluegrass music. Live, they are often accompanied by their crack band, featuring an ace turntable whiz, drummer,  and cellist.

“We’re the biggest independent group that no one has ever heard of, “ says Kev.

Wil B and Kev Marcus are classically trained viola and violin players who first met playing in the high school orchestra in Fort Lauderdale, FL. After graduating college, they joined up as hip-hop studio rats in the South Florida, working with several different acts before returning to their roots by fusing the two genres in a groundbreaking collaboration that has seen them play their music for everybody from the troops in Iraq to both the official President’s Inaugural Ball and the Kids Inaugural in Washington, DC, where Barack Obama himself gave each a hearty hand-shake and man hug, as First Lady Michelle Obama looked on approvingly. The pair also headlined 40 shows in two stints at the New Victory Theater on Broadway, including 16 sold-out shows over two weeks last November. Along the way, they’ve wowed audiences at the legendary Harlem Apollo Theatre, accompanied Alicia Keys’ performance of “Karma” at the 2004 Billboard Awards, and appeared with Gym Class Heroes and Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump playing the hit song, “Stereo Hearts,” for VH1’s Unplugged.

Since starting Black Violin a decade ago—named after an album by preeminent African-American swing era jazz violinist Stuff Smith—Wil B and Kev have performed an average of 200 shows a year in 49 states and 36 countries as far away as Dubai, Prague and South Africa, while appearing at official NFL celebrations for three Super Bowls and last year’s U.S. Open in Forest Hills with Jordin Sparks. The pair has played with the likes of Linkin Park member Mike Shinoda’s Fort Minor, while opening for Fat Joe, Akon and the Wu-Tang Clan. Individually and together, Black Violin has collaborated with the likes of P. Diddy, Kanye West, 50 Cent, Tom Petty, Aerosmith, Aretha Franklin and The Eagles. Kev supplied strings for a track on Lupe Fiasco’s Grammy-nominated Food & Liquor 2 album, and appeared on the Meek Mill cut “Maybach Curtains” with John Legend, Rick Ross and Nas. Wil and Kev also scored an episode of CSI: New York, adapting the finale of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly for an on-screen murder.
“It’s now time to spread the word about Black Violin,” insists Kev. “The groundswell is just beginning.”

“It’s something everyone can enjoy, whether you’re an 80-year-old grandmother or a kid in kindergarten,” adds Wil B. “It’s classical, hip-hop, rock, R&B, pop… just good music.”

Take a listen to songs like “Jammin’,” “Dirty Orchestra,” “Virtuoso,” “Rock Anthem” or “Brandenburg,” which puts the “backbeat” to Bach’s famed concertos, or check out Wil B and Kev Marcus strut the stage with their instruments like rock stars on their YouTube page, effortlessly combining different forms of music. With Wil B’s smooth vocals, Black Violin has even begun to explore R&B and soul on songs like the dreamy “End of the World” and the plaintive ballad, “Interlude (Tiffany).” The result is inspiring to all ages, though Black Violin remains particularly committed to turning young fans on to their own potential through a tireless schedule of appearances at schools, where they constantly stress the importance of arts education. Their “triumph” is the outcome of a decade-long effort that has seen them bridge the gap between the worlds of classical and popular music.

“We’re passionate about it because we realize how fortunate we were to grow up having access to that,” explains Wil B. “It’s something in which we take a great deal of pride. We encourage kids to think creatively, to take what they love doing and try to come up with something no one has ever done before. And that doesn’t just apply to playing violin or even music, but whatever it is you decide to do. Expand your mind. Once we get their attention with the music, that’s the message we want to deliver.”

The video for the song “Triumph” illustrates the concept perfectly, as a young boy is faced with choosing between the temptations of the street and picking up a musical instrument at school.

“Black Violin is all about overcoming your obstacles and staying strong,” says Wil.

Band Members