Musical duo Black Violin will be performing at Ohio University’s Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium Wednesday, Oct. 20 for their first full-production show since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The pair, consisting of violinist Kevin Marcus and violist Wil Baptiste, met in their high school orchestra class and teamed back up after college to work in the music industry.
In their 17 years as artists, they have created five albums, won the 2005 Showtime at the Apollo competition and been nominated for a GRAMMY for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album. From collaborations with Linkin Park, Lil NasX and Kendrick Lamar, to working on scores for television shows like “All American” and “Pitch,” Black Violin has been involved in a wide range of projects.
Marcus sang the praises of their producer Phil Beaudrea — his favorite collaborator — who worked with them on their most recent albums, “Take the Stairs” and “Give Thanks."
The career path kind of just happened according to Marcus. He had always excelled at music even though his main interests were math and science. He even aspired to be a doctor or engineer one day but the better he became at music, the more he considered a career in the field.
However, the more traditional features of classical music didn’t appeal to Marcus, who never really saw himself wearing a tuxedo in an orchestra.
To Marcus, the reactions he gets from people when he tells them he plays the violin are always entertaining.
“I’m a big Black guy, sagging pants, 2001 listening to Jay-Z and Wu-Tang, you know. I was a stereotypical young Black kid driving around in a Honda Civic hatchback. That was me,” explained Marcus.
His talent would change people's perception of him immediately, a reaction Marcus compared to someone finding out he was a rocket scientist. It would completely disarm people, something he came to view as an advantage.
“We truly do talk to the audience and tell them about breaking stereotypes. The reason why we do this is because people said that we shouldn’t,” said Marcus. “If someone tells you ‘I’ve never seen that before, therefore it can’t work' that is exactly why it should work.”
He wanted to recreate that feeling into his work, leading to Black Violin, a group that merges classical music and hip-hop. The song format remains the same but the lead instrument is replaced by a violin.
Marcus enjoys seeing the positive impact, saying he's seen more unconventional musicians in the years since Black Violin began performing.
“We’ve seen kids that saw us 20 years ago now do things like we’re doing,” explained Marcus.
In order to give back to the community more directly, the Black Violin Foundation was created in an effort to foster a love of music in children that might not otherwise have the opportunity through music education and equity. The foundation has three different programs. One, called the Dreamer Diversity Equity & Inclusion Grant, focuses on building a diverse racial representation within the classical arts. The James Miles Musical Innovation Grant, named after their high school teacher, provides scholarships up to $2,500 to youth looking to further their musical; education. Up to 20 winners are chosen twice a year and based on video submissions. Quality string instruments are provided to music students through the Dreamer INstrument Access Program in order to lessen the financial burden on students.
“The biggest and best part of our legacy is the foundation,” said Marcus. “It’s more than I could have ever dreamt for.”
As their career continues to grow, Marcus hopes that he and Baptiste can tour internationally, in particular to South America. Scoring for a full feature film or television series is also on the group's bucket list.
The show is high energy, described by Marcus as “a meal, not a snack”, with light displays incorporated into the musical accompaniment.
“I’m pretty sure you've never heard or seen anything like it. It’s more the idea that when you leave it you’ll think about things in a different way,” said Marcus. “You’ll think about what is possible.”
Tickets can be purchased for $10 at the Ohio University Performing Arts website. The show begins at 7:30 p.m.; masks required.