The classically-trained viola/violin duo of Wil B. and Kev Marcus will bring a modern blend of classical, hip-hop, rock and R&B sounds to the Music Center at Strathmore on Saturday, Nov. 12 for an evening that’s sure to appeal to both young and old as they perform both originals and cover tunes including pieces from their new CD “Stereotypes.”
They’ll also lead several days of outreach efforts with students from Maryland’s Montgomery County Public Schools as part of the Strathmore-developed community outreach events – something they routinely do as they seek to encourage youth to study classical music and to master the instruments that, for centuries, have been the foundation of the genre.
The two, now in their early 30s, first met in Ft. Lauderdale and played together in their high school orchestra. By coincidence, they were both students in a magnet program for Broward County Public Schools where they began to learn how to play the violin and viola.
Marcus remembers those years with fondness.
“Can you imagine two sixth grade, Black boys carrying violin cases home from school in the hood? We got some strange looks. Even now, many people are still taken aback, even fascinated, when they see us walk out on stage,” Marcus said.
But what propelled them to international acclaim from a second period classical music class in elementary school?
“We were always a little different I guess listening to Jay-Z on our headphones and learning the classics like Bach too,” said Wil who prefers to only use the initial from his last name, Baptiste. “I attended Florida State University and Kev went to Florida International University. College was important for both of us as it helped us take things to the next level.”
After a few stints in local clubs in Florida and taking the top prize on “Showtime at the Apollo” in 2005, things began to really take off – from being invited to perform with Alicia Keys on the Billboard Music Awards, to opening for Wu-Tang Clan – then teaming up with folks like Kanye West, Tom Petty, Lupe Fiasco and Aerosmith. They’ve also released several independent, self-financed albums. And with stops that have included Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore, both say they love to see how people react to their music and to them – two young, Black classical musicians.
“We enjoy the chance to break stereotypes. And when we go into classrooms, which is one of our favorite activities, we see that most children, especially Black, aren’t used to seeing two brothers pick up instruments that tend to be mastered by whites. But when they see and hear us, they begin to believe that they can do similar things,” Marcus said.
“Our audiences are often mostly Black and we bring them the classics and hip-hop all rolled into one show. For them it’s a very different world and a different side of music. We want them to think outside of the box because we believe that they too can change the world and make a difference one day,” he said.
Both agree that appearing on “Showtime at the Apollo” and winning still remains a dream come true.
“I remember looking out at the crowd and realizing that this was the beginning of something really big in our lives. Hearing my mom scream for us was powerful. And to think playing a violin was what got me there,” Marcus said.
Today, on their major label debut, “Stereotype,” they’ve been able to team up with a wide range of guest artists, while allowing the Black string powerhouses to shine. In addition, it has allowed them to stretch their wings, adding R&B, jazz and rock elements to the mix, while also incorporating today’s technology and hip-hop beats.
It all points to one thing with which the talented two agree: “Ain’t no stopping us now.”
For information about Black Violin and tickets to their performance, visit www.strathmore.org or call 301-581-5100.