New Jersey Stage
New Jersey Stage on social media

Tune into Radio Jersey with Lee Mrowicki every Monday through Friday from 6pm to 8pm
Broadcast on Asbury Music!

Boundary-Defying Black Violin Blends Classical, Hip-Hop, Rock and More

By Brent Johnson,

originally published: 04/06/2018

Boundary-Defying Black Violin Blends Classical, Hip-Hop, Rock and More

It happens mostly at the airport. Or when they’re getting on an elevator.

Wil Baptiste says when he and longtime friend Kevin Sylvester are spotted carrying their musical instruments cases, people usually assume that saxophones or trumpets are inside.


Instead, those strangers are surprised to learn that the two black men from south Florida actually play viola and violin.

They’re the members of Black Violin, a renowned duo that does something striking: playing classical music on top of hip-hop beats.

“You don’t typically see brothers like us playing the violin the way that we do, or ever, in any way, to be honest,” Baptiste explains. “The reaction is always: ‘Wow. Where did you guys study?’ Honestly, people don’t really think we even studied anywhere. They kinda think we just picked it up.”

Both are classically trained — Baptiste on viola and Sylvester on violin. And they’re just as comfortable playing Brahms as they are Biggie Smalls.

Boundary-Defying Black Violin Blends Classical, Hip-Hop, Rock and More

In fact, they’re quite successful at it. Their most recently album, 2015’s aptly titled “Stereotypes,” hit No. 1 on Billboard ‘s classical crossover chart and No. 1 on the magazine’s R&B albums chart. The video for their song ‘A Flat’ has racked up more than 8 million views on YouTube.

Black Violin will play back-to-back shows in New Jersey next week: Wednesday, April 11, at the Bergen Performing Arts Center in Englewood and Thursday, April 12, at State Theatre New Jersey in New Brunswick.

Baptiste says when he was younger, he was bothered when people were stunned to learn what instruments they play. But no longer.

“Our society has painted the picture of someone that looks like me in a certain way,” he says. “So when that perception is shattered, it makes people think. And I’m okay with that. I’m okay with doing something that will make people view other people differently. I think what I’m doing on stage is breaking stereotypes and bridging the gap between these two different genres — classical and hip-hop — but also bringing people together. Now I look at it more of like: It’s good work being done.”

That Baptiste and Sylvester — who go by the stage names Wil B. and Kev Marcus — play string instruments at all is a stroke of fate.

Baptiste originally wanted to play saxophone.

“I used to beat on the table (in school), and the security guard would get upset at me,” he recalls. “He told me he used to play the sax and make money on the weekend playing gigs. I thought to myself: ‘I need money.’”

But when Baptiste tried to enroll in a summer program to learn the sax, he was put in the wrong class — and stuck with viola.

“I had to live with it,” he says. “But after a couple of days, I kind of grew interested in it.”

Sylvester, meanwhile, was forced into violin lessons when he was caught stealing candy from a store, and his mother put him in a music class.

Boundary-Defying Black Violin Blends Classical, Hip-Hop, Rock and More

The two met in high school at Dillard High School of Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. They went to different colleges to study music — Baptiste at Florida State University, Sylvester at Florida International University.

But they reconnected after that — and stumbled into their sound.

“It’s definitely not something we methodically thought up,” Baptiste says. “We didn’t wake up and say, ‘These two genres would be cool together.’ I think it’s really the product of our environment. We grew up in the hood, and we happened to play a stringed instrument. And to us, hip-hop is about expression. And we knew the instruments. We knew the violin. We knew the viola. What better way to express ourselves than something we knew? And it was just really having fun.”

They took their name from a 1965 album called “Black Violin” by jazz violinist Stuff Smith.

“Kev’s professor gave it to him on his first day of college,” Baptiste remembers. “He listened to it, and he really loved it, and it really inspired him to think outside the box. And he sent it to me, and it did the same. And it’s something we still listen to today.”

Boundary-Defying Black Violin Blends Classical, Hip-Hop, Rock and More

Originally, their goal was to be producers like The Neptunes – the famed production group featuring Pharrell Williams – but their performances caught on with audiences. They surprised venue owners in south Florida who were leery of booking classical musicians at dance clubs.

Their big break came in 2005, when they won “Showtime at the Apollo” — the legendary talent competition at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.

Since then, they’ve opened for or collaborated with everyone from Kanye West, Alicia Keys, Wu-Tang Clan and Wyclef Jean to Tom Petty, Aerosmith and Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park.

They’ve played at the South By Southwest and Bonnaroo festivals. They composed the score for the Fox TV show “Pitch.”

And they performed at President Barack Obama’s second inauguration, in 2013.

Baptiste’s favorite collaborator?

“I think Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park. And Alicia Keys,” he says. “They’re both incredible. And everyone else really showed a lot of love. Alicia Keys, we sat and talked to her and she’s really humble. And Linkin Park showed us how millionaires who have sold a lot of records should treat people.”

But who was he the most starstruck over?

“None of them,” Baptiste says. “I was actually the most starstruck when I met Earth, Wind & Fire. I’ve been a fan of them for a long time. When I met them at the Billboard Awards, I was like, ‘Yo, that’s crazy. Earth Wind & Fire.’”

Boundary-Defying Black Violin Blends Classical, Hip-Hop, Rock and More

Fair enough. But who would he pick if he could have only one artist’s music on his phone for the rest of time?

“Wow,” Baptiste says when asked. “I would have to choose — oh, this is difficult. I’d say Curtis Mayfield.”

Black Violin average about 150 shows a year, touring with DJ SPS and drummer Nat Stokes. This week, they’re playing back-to-back shows at the venerable Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

Baptiste said New Jersey audiences next week can expect a “high-energy show.”

“It’s a lot of fun,” he says. “We encourage the crowd to get up and dance. There’s highs and lows in the show. Just expect the unexpected. Whatever you think you’ve seen from videos online, trust me: It doesn’t do it justice. If you want to experience something completely different, this is the show for you.”

The duo is also in the studio now working on a new album. A release date is yet to be determined.

Baptiste says there’s another thing he’s proud of: Drawing in people who might not otherwise listen to classical music.

“Particularly kids,” he explains. “They’re into classical now. Actually, they’ll pick up the violin because of us and how we approach it. It’s really incredible to see how something you think is this way, but when you see us introduce it another way, you look at it completely different, and it opens up this world.”

So does he ever wish he actually got to play saxophone all those years ago?

“No,” Baptiste says bluntly. “Absolutely not. I play a lot of different instruments, but I still haven’t picked up the sax.”

Black Violin will perform at bergenPAC on Wednesday, April 11, and at State Theatre New Jersey on Thursday, April 12. Visit their sites for tickets and more information.

Boundary-Defying Black Violin Blends Classical, Hip-Hop, Rock and More

About the author: Brent Johnson is a pop-culture-obsessed writer from East Brunswick, N.J. He's currently a reporter for The Star-Ledger of Newark. Before that, he was a longtime entertainment and music columnist for The Trenton Times. His work has also been published by Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated On Campus and Night & Day Magazine. His favorite musical artists: Elvis Costello, Billy Joel, The Smiths, Roxy Music, Dave Matthews Band, The Beatles, Blur, Squeeze, The Kinks. When he's not writing, Brent is the lead singer in alt-rock band The Clydes

Content provided by Discover Jersey Arts, a project of the ArtPride New Jersey Foundation and New Jersey State Council on the Arts.

State Theatre Presents Diana Krall: Turn Up the Quiet Tour
(NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ) -- State Theatre New Jersey presents Diana Krall live in concert as part of her Turn Up The Quiet World Tour on Friday, October 12 at 8:00pm. Tickets range from $43-$153.50.  This concert will feature songs from Diana Krall’s stunning new album, Turn Up The Quiet, out now on Verve Records as well as a mix of some fan favorites. 
Kean Stage Presents The Manhattan Transfer
(UNION, NJ) -- Going strong after more than 45 years, Grammy Award winner The Manhattan Transfer, with tenor vocals from Kean University alumnus Alan Paul '71, will captivate Kean Stage audiences with their distinctive four-part harmonies at Enlow Recital Hall on Sunday, September 30 at 3:00pm.
3rd Annual North Jersey Indie Rock Festival
(JERSEY CITY, NJ) -- The North Jersey Indie Rock Festival returns to Jersey City on October 6. Presented by Mint 400 Records and Sniffling Indie Kids, the festival includes acts from those labels and Little Dickman Records, Rhyme and Reason Records, and State Champion Records.  The festival takes place at White Eagle Hall. Doors are at 4:00pm and the music starts at 4:30pm. Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door.
The Dryden Ensemble Presents Bach Cantata Fest
(PRINCETON, NJ) -- The Dryden Ensemble will present a Bach Cantata Fest on Saturday, October 20 at 7:30pm at Trinity Episcopal Church, 6587 Upper York Road, Solebury, Pennsylvania, and on Sunday, October 21 at 3:00pm at Miller Chapel, located on the campus of Princeton Theological Seminary, 64 Mercer Street, Princeton, New Jersey. Tickets are $25 for general admission and free to students with an ID. They may be purchased at the door or online at
Steve Barton & Robert Darlington From Translator To Perform at Randy Now's Man Cave
(BORDENTOWN, NJ) -- Whether it's pure pop or moody acoustic ballads, singer/songwriter/guitarist, Steve Barton, has developed a reputation for crafting some of the most literate and poignant music in underground rock.  In addition to being a founding member of the revered punk/psychedelic band Translator, perhaps best known for the Barton-penned song "Everywhere That I'm Not", he has released several solo albums.  The seventh and latest, "Tall Tales and Alibis", is a sprawling triple album tour de force filled with Steve's brand new songs, which was released in March by Sleepless Music.   To celebrate the release of the record, Barton will be making a rare live appearance with his Translator partner Robert Darlington, this Sunday, September 23 at Randy Now's Man Cave in Bordentown (134 Farnsworth Ave) at 7:00pm.  

From the Ballpark to the Concert Stage: Bernie Williams LIVE! at The Grunin Center
Fans of sports and music are lining up outside Toms River, NJ’s Grunin Center of the Arts this Saturday, September 8, 2018 for a concert by four-time World Series Champion and Latin Grammy-Nominated guitarist/composer Bernie Williams and his All-Star Band!
“Here’s Lucie!” Lucie Arnaz LIVE! at the PNC Bank Arts Center
Even though the weather outside Holmdel, NJ’s PNC Bank Arts Center is cloudy with some light intermittent drizzle this Wednesday, September 12, 2018 afternoon, the venue’s stage is still shining brightly with talent thanks to a live performance by television, film, and stage actress/singer Lucie Arnaz!
Mike Aiken Talks About Aiken & Friends Fest, North Branch At RVCC
(BRANCHBURG, NJ) -- Raritan Valley Community College presents Aiken & Friends Fest, North Branch on Friday, September 21 and Saturday, September 22.  The three-day event will feature a number of different musical shows by Mike Aiken, as well as other solo artists and groups.  
Virtuoso Jazz Violinist Jean-Luc Ponty LIVE! at the Newton Theatre
It’s a warm but lovely Aug. 23, 2018 evening here in Newton, NJ. After enjoying some hand-dipped Cliff’s ice cream from the window at Hayek Market, we march up Spring Street looking forward to hearing some world-class jazz at one of the Garden State’s favorite concert venues, The Newton Theatre.
An Interview with Bernie Williams
Four-time World Series Champion and Latin Grammy-Nominated guitarist and composer Bernie Williams will perform with his All-Star Band at the Jersey Shore this Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018 at The Grunin Center of the Arts in Toms River, NJ!

Event calendar
Saturday, Sep 22, 2018


Asbury Park Porchfest @ Booskerdoo, Asbury Park - 12:00pm

Carl Chesna & Co. @ Hotel Tides, Asbury Park - 1:00pm

Echoes @ The Stone Pony, Asbury Park - 7:00pm

Cole Swindell @ Hard Rock Live Etess Arena at Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Atlantic City, Atlantic City - 8:00pm

GRUPO NICHE @ Bergen Performing Arts Center (bergenPAC), Englewood - 8:00pm

The History of Motown @ Englewood Public Library, Englewood - 7:00pm

Drake Bell @ iPlay America, Freehold - 7:00pm

Classic Stones Live feat. The Glimmer Twins @ The Levoy Theatre, Millville - 8:00pm

Opera Theatre of Montclair Presents Hansel and Gretel @ Central Presbyterian Church, Montclair - 4:00pm

Oscar D’León with Tony Vega and Los Hermanos Moreno @ Prudential Hall @ New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), Newark - 8:00pm

SunDog Band at Duffy's Tavern, Paterson NJ @ Duffy's Tavern, Paterson NJ, Paterson - 9:00pm

Celtic Thunder X @ Count Basie Center For The Arts, Red Bank - 8:00pm

Young Person's Concert @ River Dell Middle School Auditorium, River Edge - 1:00pm

Tigerman record release show for “Descend Into Savagery” @ Debonair Music Hall, Teaneck - 8:00pm

Hubby Jenkins @ Lizzie Rose Music Room, Tuckerton - 7:30pm


Souvenir @ Surflight Theatre, Beach Haven - 8:00pm

East Lynne Theater Company presents SILENT SKY @ First Presbyterian Church (Cape May), Cape May - 8:00pm

The Shuck @ Cape May Stage, Cape May - 3:00pm and 7:30pm

Incorruptible @ Ritz Theatre Company, Haddon Township - 8:00pm

West End Festival of the Arts- Theatre Brut Session 2 @ West End Arts Center, Long Branch - 2:00pm

Evita @ Broadway Theatre of Pitman, Pitman - 2:00pm and 8:00pm

Seuls en Scene French Theater Festival - "Claire, Anton et Eux" @ Class of 1970 Theatre, Whitman College, Princeton - 2:00pm and 8:00pm

HUMAN ERROR by Eric Pfeffinger @ West Windsor Arts Center, Princeton Junction - 8:00pm

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest @ Black Box PAC, Teaneck - 8:00pm

Assisted Living: The Musical @ Jay & Linda Grunin Center For The Arts At Ocean County College, Toms River - 2:00pm

Brick City @ Premiere Stages at Kean University, Union - 3:00pm


SWAN LAKE - THE ATLANTIC CITY BALLET @ The Strand Theater, Lakewood - 7:00pm

SOLE Defined @ Mainstage @ Union County Performing Arts Center (UCPAC), Rahway - 8:00pm


Monthly Saturday Writing Retreats @ Tiferet Journal, Bernardsville - 9:00am

View all events


For more on our awards, click here

New Jersey Stage © 2018 by Wine Time Media, LLC | PO Box 140, Spring Lake, NJ 07762 (732) 280-7625 |

Images used on this site have been sent to us from publicists, artists, and PR firms.
If there is a problem with the rights to any image, please contact us and we will look into the matter.