Redefining Classical Music: The Story of Black Violin
Dreams don’t always begin the way you’d imagine them to. Like everything in life, they change and evolve over time until one day, you find your purpose.
Take it from Kevin Sylvester and Wil Baptiste, founding members of the classical-meets-hip-hop duo, Black Violin. Having met in a high school orchestra class, the two mastered their instruments — Wil the viola, Kevin the violin — side-by-side. And today, they continue their journey together, breaking the mold by bringing classical music into the 21st century.
But that wasn’t always the dream.
“I started playing violin when I was in the fifth grade — my mother made me do it,” shares Kevin. “But after a couple of years, I started feeling good about it, and in high school we had a really passionate teacher that just pushed us, his name is James Miles.”
With the help of Mr. Miles and their talent propelling them forward, both Wil and Kevin received college scholarships to study classical music. But they were determined to do something more than the world expected.
“We had these scholarships, we loved playing classical, but we didn’t see a future in it. We were good at it, but we didn’t want to play in tuxedos for the rest of our lives,” explains Kevin. “So during college we started experimenting with producing music. We asked ourselves ‘how do we make popular music, but also use the things we’re learning in our classical training?’”
“We knew that every time we played violin, people were drawn to us, but we weren’t really sure what to do with it,” adds Wil.
Over time, the duo started reaching out to local clubs, just trying to get their foot in the door. But people weren’t quite sold on their pitch — classical music meets hip-hop — at first.
“We started pitching to clubs, and they’d laugh us out the door,” says Kevin. “We’d have to play and prove to them we had something special. We had to convince people one by one, but once they saw us perform, they got it.”
Over time, Black Violin started gaining traction and they began to build a fan base. But even today, they have to deal with their fair share of naysayers.
“Just the idea of classical hip-hop and two black guys has always confused people,” explains Wil. “It’s still a challenge. When people think of violin, they don’t picture our concept. Many of them have never even heard music like this, so there’s still this feeling of constantly having to prove ourselves.”
And prove themselves they have. Over the past decade, the duo has been playing music and inspiring audiences across the world. And through that, they’ve discovered their purpose in life.
“For me, my purpose is to inspire and motivate people,” shares Wil. “I want to make people feel like they have a chance in the world. Because, for whatever reason, we’re able to make people come alive through our music, it’s kind of our super power. And I love sharing that with the world.”
“Our message and mission for our band/brand is always about finding your voice and discovering your truest self,” adds Kevin. “If someone says you can’t do it, that’s all the more reason to do it! And if someone like you has never done it, here’s your chance to show the world you can!”
With their latest album, Take the Stairs, that dropped in November, 2019, they continue to push boundaries and exude positivity. And, whether they’re playing a big concert hall or working with kids as part of the Turnaround Arts program, they’re dedicated to using their platform for good.
“When you’re an artist, you have a platform. And you can do good or bad with it. We try to be responsible with the power we yield — and our dream is to play more shows and reach more people so we can grow that power and positively impact more people,” concludes Kevin.
Want to see Wil and Kevin in action and support their mission? See if they’re coming to a venue near you.