Black Violin live at Clark State’s Kuss Auditorium

Wilner Baptiste and Kevin Sylvester of Black Violin; photo: Colin Brennan

By Gary Spencer

It’s rare when two seemingly disparate forms of music are mixed together for a singular musical expression, and even rarer when it’s done seamlessly. The latter is certainly the case for the duo of Kev Marcus and Wil B., better known collectively as Black Violin. Formed in 2004, the pair have garnered a lot of attention for their uncanny ability to bridge the musical gap between the decades-old, African American-bred genre of hip hop with the centuries-old, distinctly European genre of classical music. This enticing and intriguing blend has managed to capture the fascination of music fans of each genre – and every other musical style in between – making them quite the phenomenon that so many people are talking about.

But before all the fanfare and accolades, young violinist Kevin Sylvester and violist Wilner Baptiste were just regular students learning their respective instruments in school.

“We met in high school orchestra class the first day of the ninth grade,” Kev says. “In our school everybody did something – our talents happened to be string music, and we both got good enough to earn scholarships to college.”

Kev and Wil  went their separate ways to attend college but soon found themselves working together again after graduation with a plan to become hip hop music producers similiar to Pharrell Williams. However, their plans took an unanticipated turn along the way.

“We’d work with a lot of artists, develop them, and produce their shows,” Kev explains. “We’d put them on stage and we’d be behind them playing and people were always staring at us! Anytime we played a hip hop song on the violin people would stop what they were doing, really reacting to it. Eventually we thought, why don’t we focus on the violin thing since people seem to be drawn to it and turn it into something different.”

With that lightbulb moment in mind, Kev and Wil formed Black Violin and turned their focus entirely on this new, adventurous project. Their new music venture got its first major validation when the duo won the prestigious Showtime at The Apollo talent competition in the mid 2000s, leading to the pair quitting their day jobs and going all in on the Black Violin concept of merging classical string music with hip hop beats and sensibility in a away that proves that the two seemingly mutually exclusive styles of music have more in common than one may anticipate.

“We’re mixing classical with hip hop in a very organic way – it’s like the perfect cocktail, if you put in too much of either it spoils the recipe,” Kev says. “It’s never been presented to them in this form before. Classical music is the foundation for all kinds of music. Everything you hear whether it’s Taylor Swift, Rascall Flatts, or Pharrell Williams, every chord structure came from classical music first. We draw this distinct line so that people can see the similarities much easier. It’s not a fifty-minute symphony – we consolidate it so that someone who doesn’t listen to classical music can understand it; it’s much more digestible. If you love Beethoven, you’ll get it. If you love Kanye West, you’ll get it.”

However, Black Violin’s mission is much bigger than just bringing together the largely separated audiences of hip hop and classical music. The duo is all about inspiring people through their music, both old and young. For the group’s forthcoming concert at Clark State, Kev and Wil will be conducting workshops for the Springfield Symphony Youth Orchestra and Urban Strings Columbus and even including them in their live show.

“We want to educate, entertain, and inspire when we perform – it’s not enough to have a good time, we want you to leave with something to think about and maybe inspire you to do something you thought you couldn’t do,” Kev says. “We have a platform and we feel like we should go out into the communities and find a way to bring kids into what we’re doing. They get to spend the whole day with us and see the whole production from beginning to end. We normally bring them on at the end and talk about how important is it is to keep these programs alive. They’ll get to play a couple of songs and then join us for a song and close the show with the crowd on its feet for them. It’s a great experience and creates a moment they won’t forget, and it’s an incredible experience for us as well.”

And the experience of taking in Black Violin’s uncanny elixir of hip and hop plus classical music is best felt live and in person.

“The live show is ‘classical boom’ – lush, beautiful strings with as much boom underneath it as you can imagine,” Kev says. “We want you to close your eyes and get lost in the strings as the person next to you is nodding his head like it’s the hottest beats in the club. It’s uplifting and touches upon your humanity. It’s a once in a lifetime type of experience, I guarantee it.”

Black Violin will perform this coming Saturday, Oct. 14 at Clark State’s Kuss Auditorium, 300 South Fountain Avenue in Springfield. Tickets are $25-60 in advance. Show begins at 8 p.m. For tickets and more information, please visit  https://Pac.ClarkState.Edu/Events.

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Gary Spencer is a graduate of Miami University and works in the performing arts, and believes that music is the best. Contact him at

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