Black Violin is a duo of hip-hop enthusiast, classically trained string instrumentalists that joined forces to form the musical group they are known for today. Kevin Sylvester and Wilner Baptiste, also known by their stage names Kev Marcus and Wil B respectively, came together in 2004 and, with their experience and study in music, created their own genre, a fusion of both Classical and Hip-Hop.
With Sylvester on the violin and Baptiste on viola, the duo took the world by storm, averaging close to 200 shows a year. The duo, along with their drummer Nat Stokes and DJ SPS, have played shows in 49 states and 36 other countries. Needless to say, Black Violin has had a presence, not only in the US, but all around the world, but there is one question that many find themselves thinking: where did the duo come from? Believe it or not, the tale of Black Violin starts back when the duo was in high school.
The duo met during their days at Dillard High School of Performing Arts in Florida. Both were part of Dillard’s orchestra program and both possessed similar interests, allowing them to become fast friends. Surprisingly enough, the musicians did not hold much stock in their respective instrument. In fact, Sylvester had no intention of even pursuing an interest in music until his mother pushed him into it in fifth grade and was enrolled in Saturday morning violin classes. Baptiste, originally, desired to play the saxophone, but, after a bet between two summer band directors, Baptiste was ‘mistakenly’ put in with the string class. Eventually, both of them made their peace with their instruments and grew to love them.
After high school, the duo went their separate ways, Sylvester going to Florida International University and Baptiste to Florida State University, but met back up several years later. After meeting Sammy G, the duo’s future manager, the duo co-founded DKNEX, or Di Versatile Music. Since the formation of the company, the group has traveled around the world, producing both local and international musicians and completed sound scores for movie trailers, films, and radio ads.
Both Sylvester and Baptiste held a love for the Hip-Hop genre, even at an early age, something that persisted as they grew older. After their study of Classical music, the duo felt it was very similar to Hip-hop as both genres are meant to bring people together. Both were meant to entertain their listeners, they are just from different eras. It is because of this that Sylvester and Baptiste thought to combine the two forms of “party music”, as the duo call them, and express them to people who have not, or do not like, that particular genre. Thus, Black Violin was born.
The group’s name, Black Violin, stems from the influence of Stuff Smith, a famous Jazz pre-bebop violinist. Smith was critical in the bebop movement, despite his style being more like swing than bebop. Smith is also credited as the first violinist to use electrical amplification on the violin, something that Black Violin is known for. The last album that Smith released before his death was labeled “Black Violin”, making it clear that both Sylvester and Baptiste held Smith in very high regard to take on the legacy that Smith had made for the genre.
The group performed their first show in Harlem on May 27th 2004 and it was a smash hit, almost immediately making the group famous. With the duo’s steadily growing fame, they performed at the 2004 Billboards Awards with Alicia Keys on her single “Karma”, toured with Fort Minor’s Mike Shinoda, performed with Sean “Diddy” Combs at the NFL Kick-off party, and shared the stage with artists such as Stevie Nickles, Lloyd Banks, Kanye West, 50 Cent, Linkin Park, Lil’ Wayne, and many others. By themselves, Black Violin has had musical coverage on ‘Fox News in the Morning’, ‘CBS, News’, ‘Thank God its Friday Comedy Tour’, ‘BET Black Film Festival’, and several other programs and events.
Black Violin has come a long way since their humble beginnings. They have traveled the globe, played with a multitude of famous singers and groups, and have produced several albums of their own. They have taken their love of Hip-Hop and knowledge of Classical to create something that everyone can enjoy. For that, Black Violin has cemented their place in history as one of the greatest musical groups today.