Wil Baptiste and Kev Marcus love defying stereotypes. The Grammy-nominated duo behind Black Violin have challenged the idea of not only who plays classical music, but who listens to it and how it fits with other genres.
Baptiste and Marcus — classically trained violinist and violist, respectively — began playing together more than 20 years ago at Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. They both continued to pursue their music through college, challenging notions that classical music is a stuffy, white genre.
“It was the idea that I wasn’t supposed to do it, and people would just be shocked when they see it,” Baptiste says.
The friends formed Black Violin after college with the intent to marry their two musical loves — classical and hip-hop. And while those two styles may not seem connected, Baptiste and Marcus are able to find common threads between the two.
“A lot of it is because we had one foot in both,” says Baptiste. “Because we’re classically trained, but we grew up in the ‘90s — I played Bach and Beethoven in orchestra, and on the way to third period, I was listening to Biggie and Snoop Dogg.
“We had the right level of influence on both sides, so when we create music, we think, ‘What will a classical enthusiast think?’ and ‘What will the hip-hop fan think?’”
That musical duality has allowed Black Violin to create a unique sound that has paired them with artists such as Alicia Keys, Wu Tang Clan, 2 Chainz and others. The duo won the Showtime at the Apollo competition in 2005, performed at one of the inaugural balls for President Barack Obama in 2013, and headlined a sold-out two-night run at the Kennedy Center in 2018.
But the biggest honor came in 2021, when their album “Take the Stairs” was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Contemporary Instrumental Album category.
“Now that there is a nomination on our resume, I’m definitely proud of it,” Baptiste says. “It’s weird to think about in high school we were the nerdy band kids, and now, not only are you not in the in-crowd, but now, all of a sudden, we’re at the pep rally and the quarterbacks have us hoisted on their shoulders like, ‘Yay, Black Violin!’”
And Baptiste and Marcus want to share that success with the next generation of band kids. The duo started their Black Violin foundation to provide support to young people interested in playing music. The foundation provides grants for music instruction and access to instruments to BIPOC (black, Indigenous and people of color) students in need.
“There are so many little moments that happen in a person’s life that can alter their path,” Baptiste says. “We’re extremely privileged to have a platform that puts us in this position to craft and mold young minds as much as we can — we take it extremely seriously.”
And while Baptiste and Marcus have performed on some of the biggest stages in the world, they’re nervously excited to play the Lexington Depot District Music Fest this weekend.
“This is our first live show in 15 months,” says Baptiste. “We’re looking forward to this in a different way. I haven’t been nervous or anxious for a show in a while — the last time I was truly nervous for a show was Barack Obama’s inauguration.”