kev marcus

Black Violin: busting musical stereotypes

Violin & viola duo blends classical music with pop and hip-hop

“We’ve been stereotyped from the moment we picked up the instruments,”Black Violin violist Wil Baptiste Jr. told me in 2016. “Every time we step on stage, we shatter every stereotype, every perception — violin, classical music, black man, whatever.” Baptiste and his high school classmate and violinist Kevin “Kev Marcus” Sylvester will be demolishing stereotypes again Friday at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall and Sunday at Hult Center’s Silva Hall in Eugene with their barrier-busting combo of classical, hip hop and pop music.

Black Violin performs Friday in Eugene and Sunday in Portland.

After practicing viola in his Florida high school music classes two decades ago, Baptiste would “put my headphones on and listen to whatever record was happening at the time,” he recalled. “We started off with hip hop before we even picked up an instrument.” When he and Marcus reconnected after college, they started adding beats to classical tunes like concertos by Vivaldi and JS Bach, and also adding their strings to covers of hits by Kanye West, Wiz Khalifa and other pop stars. “We understand both worlds,” Baptiste said. “So we couldn’t help but to try to put them together; it was really natural to blend the two.”

In 2004, the duo brought their act to the toughest audience in America: Harlem’s renowned Apollo Theater. “Everyone else before us got booed, we got these violins, what’s gonna happen?” Baptiste wondered. “The crowd went crazy. That’s validation. That’s all we needed right there.” Alicia Keys’s manager happened to be there, and soon BV was performing with her, Wu-Tang Clan, Wyclef Jean, and more, opening for Aerosmith and Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, even playing President Obama’s second inauguration. More Apollo appearances followed, along with TED Talks, SXSW, collaborations with symphony orchestras, national tours. 

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