What happens when you combine hip-hop and classical music? You get Black Violin

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August 22, 2019

By Connor Kockler ’22

Black Violin
Photo credit: Colin Brennan

Hip-hop and classical music aren’t things that you might expect would go together, but a dynamic duo of musical performers is planning to change your mind.

Black Violin, comprising musicians Kevin Marcus and Wil Baptiste, will bring these two disparate disciplines together when they come to the College of Saint Benedict this fall. They will be performing at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept.21, at Escher Auditorium on the CSB campus as part of the Fine Arts Series at CSB and Saint John’s University.

This performance also coincides with Family Weekend at CSB and SJU.

The group seems traditional enough, with Wil B. on the viola and Marcus playing violin, but the conventional vibes stop there. Black Violin uses these instruments in ways you’ve never seen or heard before as they also incorporate blues and R&B into their musical repertoire

Their versatility and variety is a real crowd pleaser, said Tanya Gertz, executive director of the Fine Arts Series.

“In my three years here, the artist most-often requested is Black Violin,” said Gertz, noting the group performed in the series in March 2015.

Their Facebook page states: “With influences ranging from Shostakovich and Bach to Nas and Jay-Z, Black Violin breaks all the rules, blending the classical with the modern to create something rare-a sound that nobody has ever heard, but that everybody wants to feel.”

The Miami Herald called them “an unexpected blend of classically trained musicianship and hip-hop beats and inventiveness.”

Marcus and Will B. both attended the same high school, before they went to college for music and afterwards formed Black Violin, named in honor of famous violinist Stuff Smith. They wanted the group to be different and shake up what people would usually anticipate from a violin concert.

“A Black Violin concert is a dancing, even shouting affair,” said Jeffrey Brown of the “PBS NewsHour” in a 2015 interview with the group.

“If you look at us, we don’t look like your typical violinists,” Baptiste told Brown. “We talk to the kids all the time, and the kids just love us because we can relate to them, so to speak. And that’s what it’s all about, breaking stereotypes.”

Baptiste told Brown that the group bridges two worlds together – “bridging hip-hop and classical and jazz and funk.”

“And what that does is, to me, particularly with the kids, it just – to then, they’re like, ‘Oh, my God, this looks incredible. It sounds incredible. It looks impossible. Maybe I can do this with literature, art, science or anything I have a passion for,’ ” Baptiste said.

After getting their start and winning the classic “Showtime at the Apollo” music competition, the concept of bridging musical styles only grew from there.

Mixing original compositions with classic symphonies, covers of popular songs, and creating improvised pieces on the spot, there’s something for everyone at a Black Violin performance.

“Black Violin bridged the gap between young and old, traditional and modern, entertaining the children, parents and grandparents in the crowd,” reported the Spokane Spokesman Review in Washington state.

Marcus and Baptiste have collaborated with numerous stars such as P. Diddly, 50 Cent, Tom Petty, Aerosmith and Aretha Franklin. They have also performed at the White House honoring military families for the 2013 inauguration, and at the Kennedy Center with the National Symphony Orchestra.

Tickets are $32 for adults, $29 for seniors, and $25 for CSB/SJU faculty and staff. Youth and students (with ID) get in for $15, and CSB/SJU student tickets are $10.

For tickets, call the Benedicta Arts Center Box Office at 320-363-5777 or order online.

This performance is sponsored in part by Coborn’s and Gearbox.

This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation form the arts and cultural heritage fund.