Shattering stereotypes comes naturally to South Florida’s Wilner “Wil B” Baptiste and Kevin “Kev Marcus” Sylvester, the classically trained violist and violinist better known as Black Violin. Following engagements throughout North America and Europe, the fascinatingly versatile duo will bring their Classical Boom Tour to Kettering’s Fraze Pavilion Thursday, June 28.
Blending their classical training with hip-hop influences, Black Violin continues to grow in prominence having collaborated over the years with such diverse artists as Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Aerosmith and Alicia Keys. They’ve also amassed 8.9 million views on YouTube, composed music for the Fox series “Pitch,” and partnered with the National Association for Music Manufacturers (NAMM) to continue their advocacy for accessible music education. Fittingly, their Fraze concert will feature members of the Dayton Philharmonic Youth Orchestra.
“We’re excited that 30 members of the Dayton Philharmonic Youth Orchestra will be performing on the concert with Black Violin,” said DPYO Conductor Patrick Reynolds. “It’s a fabulous crossover opportunity for our musicians and really cool to share the stage with this amazing group. Our audiences are so used to seeing us at our ‘home’ on stage at the Schuster Center, but here’s a chance to see what else we can do. In addition to the music we’ll perform with Black Violin, our DPYO chamber orchestra will play an opening set ourselves, including music from Mozart to Lady Gaga.”
In advance of the concert, Sylvester reflected on Black Violin’s style and programming, which promises to blend Mozart with Cardi B, Ed Sheeran with Marvin Gaye, and Bach with The Notorious B.I.G.
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Q: How important has it been for Black Violin to think outside the box?
A: Thinking differently is the key. Figuring out what can be done that no one else has thought of before. Anyone who has been amazing at something in some way shape or form re-defined what they did. For us, we weren’t supposed to play violin and definitely weren’t supposed to bring hip-hop into it, but we did. We were told it wasn’t going to make sense, but we succeeded because we went against the grain. Black entertainers in general are usually athletes, but we want to show a different side. It’s all in how you approach things.
Q: Why do you feel there is a sort of disconnect especially within the African-American community when it comes to this format? Is it a challenge?
A: I think it’s a challenge because there aren’t enough people talking about classical music. It seems as if everyone wants to be a rapper or LeBron James, but they’re not thinking about the work that goes into it. LeBron is on a different level of basketball, but works hard while approaching the game in a different way. Wil and I try to highlight this in our work. The violin is just our tool for thinking differently. You can be anything you want to be but you have to work really hard.
Q: You average over 150 shows a year. How does it feel to continue to build audiences with each tour?
A: It’s still a thrill. We love to overload the audience’s senses. We know we aren’t Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin or other artists who have had fan bases for a long time. Normally we tour performing arts centers and that’s how we are introduced to audiences. We aren’t on the radio so every night we have to show and prove to the audience that we’re worth the ticket. We want everyone to come and see the show and tell someone else about us the next time we visit. We’re only as good as the idea of what we are and our reputation so that’s what keeps touring fresh. Our production values have also increased which is great.
Q: Are you excited to incorporate members of the Dayton Philharmonic Youth Orchestra into your Fraze concert?
A: It’s going to be a really cool experience. So many kids don’t know you can play violin a certain way and have people up on their feet clapping for you. The whole point is to show them and the audience as a whole something different. Hopefully it will inspire them to find new ways of doing different things.