Violinist Kevin Sylvester and violist Wilner Baptiste went to college to study classical music. Today both are professional musicians, but neither wear white tie and tails on stage.
As Black Violin, “Kev Marcus” and “Wil B.” break down stereotypes and cultural barriers, one gig at a time.
“If you come to our show and look at the stage before, you would sear it was two guitarists performing,” Will B. told the Mercury News recently. “There’s a ton of pedals and gear, tools that add to the creativity and helps us connect to the audience in a way that classical music rarely does.”
The classical and hip-hop crossover duo joins the Grand Rapids Symphony for its annual Symphony with Soul at 8 p.m., Saturday, February 16 in DeVos Performance Hall.
Associate Conductor John Varineau leads the Grand Rapids Symphony in the evening of gospel, spirituals, jazz, blues, and R&B, celebrating diversity and inclusion in West Michigan, featuring community musicians joins nationally renowned artists to perform for the wider community.
The show is sold out, a first in the 18-year history of the Grand Rapids Symphony’s special event celebrating musical diversity, equity and inclusion. Returned tickets may be available at the door.
Natives of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, Kev Marcus and Wil B. went to separate colleges but reconnected after they returned home. Among other musical pursuits, they soon began covering hip-hop songs on their violins, something no performing artist had done before.
“We approach our artistry and our craft as pop singers or rappers. That’s how we move. It’s just we have violins in our hands,” Wil B. said recently in an interview with Grandeur magazine in Grand Rapids, just prior to the show in DeVos Hall.
In 2004, Black Violin was invited to appear with Alicia Keys at the Billboard Awards. The following year, two years after they first sent an audition tape to Showtime at the Apollo, they were invited to participate and promptly won the competition in 2005. Black Violin was on its way.
Black Violin, known for a “hard-hitting beat with lush string sounds,” has toured with Kanye West, Jay-Z and Linkin Park and has collaborated with Aerosmith, Wynton Marsalis and Elvis Costello. In January 2013, they performed for President Barack Obama at his Second Inauguration.
Symphony with Soul also features the Grand Rapids Symphony Community Chorus, a vocal ensemble that sings in the gospel tradition, led by Duane Shields Davis.
Performers for Symphony with Soul include young musicians from the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Mosaic Scholarship Program for talented African-American and Latinx students. The program provides teenage students with one-on-one lessons with a professional musician from the Grand Rapids Symphony plus with instrument rental, music, supplies, and tickets to Grand Rapids Symphony concerts.
Opening the program is the anthem “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.” First performed in 1900 by a group of 500 school children for President Lincoln’s birthday celebration, the cherished song of the Civil Rights Movement is the traditional opener for the community celebration in DeVos Hall.
Each year, the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Symphony with Soul is preceded by Celebration of Soul, a gala dinner honoring the accomplishments of individuals and organizations in the community that emphasize and celebrate the importance of cultural awareness and inclusion in West Michigan.
This year’s recipients of the Dr. MaLinda P. Sapp Legacy Award are architect, business owner and jazz musician Isaac V. Norris; Grand Rapids Symphony Associate Conductor John Varineau; and retired educator, photographer and musician Noel Webley II. Each are leaders in successfully advancing multiculturalism and multicultural awareness in their profession or industry and are role models of consistent, creative encouragement in the community to become more culturally competent.
A limited licensed psychologist, licensed counselor and college professor, Dr. MaLinda P. Sapp was co-pastor of Lighthouse Full Life Center Church in Grand Rapids, along with her husband, gospel artist Marvin Sapp. Prior to her death in 2010, Dr. Sapp was awarded the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Celebration of Soul Legacy Award. The award was renamed posthumously in her honor.
Tickets start at $18 adults, $5 students for Symphony with Soul. Call the Grand Rapids Symphony at (616) 454-9451 ext. 4 or go online to GRSymphony.org.