Black Violin
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Black Violin

Miami, Florida, United States | SELF

Miami, Florida, United States | SELF
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Kevin Sylvester (a/k/a Kev Marcus) has fond memories of James Miles, the orchestra teacher at Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale. Sylvester attended the school with his friend, Wilner Baptiste, also known as Wil b. “He is the one who got it in my head that we could do something different,” Sylvester said of Miles. “We were classically trained and playing classical stuff. He didn’t push us to go outside of that, but he did push us to be better.’’ Miles talked Sylvester’s conservative, West Indian mother (she’s from Dominica) into allowing him to attend school at Dillard, “in the middle of the hood,” because he believed the young musician had a shot at a college scholarship.

Sylvester and Baptiste, the two friends from Miramar, got their full music scholarships. Sylvester attended Florida International University; Baptiste headed to Florida State University.

Today, they are the dynamic duo that calls itself Black Violin, smoothly combining classical music and hip hop for audiences around the world.

On Monday, Jan. 21, Black Violin will perform at Miami Gardens’ Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Celebration.
They will share the stage with Tom Joyner, host of the Tom Joyner Morning Show, and Grammy-nominated recording artist Mario. The group has also shared the stage with some of the hottest hip-hop, R&B and pop acts in the business, including Alicia Keys, Kanye West, 50 Cent, Nas and Fabolous, rock acts like Arrowsmith and The Eagles, and new school acts like The Roots and Linkin Park lead singer Mike Shinoda, with whom they recently toured.

The Black Violin artists, are remarkably grounded for young men barely out of college who have already been around the world – to Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Dubai, Germany, England, Australia, New Zealand and France, with upcoming shows in South Africa in April. Wherever they play, the group, with their DJ, TK, surprises its audiences (often full of hip-hop kids) with sets that are equal parts sublime and raw.

“You wouldn’t expect the crowd to be so hyped’’ about two guys with violins, says Wil. “But it’s like, before we even play everything, the crowd is getting with it. The image has a lot to do with it.’’ The music has a lot to do with it, too – a potent mix of what Wil calls “hard core, crunk hip-hop with violins on top.’’
The young mens’ success is grounded in education. They both earned bachelor’s degrees in music performance. After college, they came back together to form a music production company. They shared a vision of combining their classical training with their love of hip hop. Initially, the idea was to weave the music of Beethoven and Bach into the background of other artists’ music.
“When we came back together after college, we started a production company and started working with artists,’’ says Wil, who also plays piano, trumpet, drums, guitar, bass guitar and viola. “We were playing on stage [with the artists] and audiences were captivated, so we started producing five-minute loops of what we were doing and playing them in clubs.’’ It soon became clear that Wil, 26, and Kev, 25, belonged on center stage. In October 2004, the two had formed Black Violin – named for the last record produced by swing-era jazz violinist Stuff Smith. They took on the notoriously brutal Amateur Night at the Apollo in New York’s Harlem – a venue that has chewed up artists with far more experience.

Instead of being booed, they won three straight rounds, taking home a $20,000 prize and the title of 2005 Apollo Legends in May of that year. Wil says the win could have changed their lives very quickly. But, he said, they’re glad it didn’t make their careers take off immediately. “It didn’t happen right away,’’ Wil says, “but I’m glad because we weren’t ready yet.’’ Now, he says, Black Violin is ready to tackle the world. Their current album is titled Black Violin. It is available at www.blackviolin.net.

As much as their image mirrors the hip-hop aesthetic, the two are also conscious of the image they’re portraying to young people. “We’re trying to change the perception of black people, the perception of music,’’ says Kev, who is also a young husband and father of two children, who are 2 and a half and 7
months. “We want to see the world, and see our people progress. We’re trying to change the world.”
- BROWARD TIMES by JOY-ANN REID


Black Violin: Florida Violin duo bridges gap of classical music with hip hop

Kevin Marcus "Kev Marcus" Sylvester and Wilner "Wil-B" Baptiste, both 23, aren't your typical violin players.

For the last three years, the violin duo calling themselves Black Violin have been bridging the gap between classical music and hip hop as Florida's funkiest fiddlers.

Both grads of Florida International University, the classically-trained pair showcased their talent on TV's "Showtime at the Apollo," eventually being crowned the 2005 champions.

"We grind to the day," says Wil-B. "No matter how hard you are and you try to be stiff. We will move you in some fashion. You may not clap, but you'll be moved. We try to captivate every single person, from an 80-year-old to a 4-year-old."

Their talent even caught the eye of Alicia Keys. She had the group perform with her at the 2004 Billboard Music Awards.

"Most of the stuff we do is improv," says Kev Marcus. "That makes the best music. Classical has a strong structure. When we broke into the hip-hop thing, that was a relief. It was like I can play whatever I want."

The group got its name from the album Black Violin by Stuff Smith, the preeminent Black violinist of the swing era.

Kev Marcus began playing violin at 9. He studied with the Miami String Quartet. Wil-B, born in the Bahamas, began playing the instrument at 13.

Their two-volume mix CD, Black Violin: The Mixtape, has them remixing popular rap cuts. It also includes a live performance at Wellesley College, the prestigious all-female college of which Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is an alum.

"It's like we're bridging the gap," says Wil-B. "I'm starting to notice the responsibility that we have for doing this thing. For once classical and hip hop can have something to talk about."


COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group
- COPYRIGHT 2005 Johnson Publishing Co.


Discography

Black Violin-Self Titled
https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/black-violin/id270328442

Black Violin-Classically Trained
https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/classically-trained/id567313602

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Bio

“Black Violin works hard, but makes it all look like play… Sometimes they play with the intense seriousness of orchestral soloists; at others they fiddle as if at a hoedown; at still others they strum the violin and viola like guitars.” N.Y. Times

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 ace turntable whiz DJTK (Dwayne Dayal), drummer Beatdown (Jermaine McQueen) and cellist Joe Cello (Joseph Valbrun).

“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 youn