The members of Black Violin, Kev Marcus and Wil B, met when they were students at Dillard High School of Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
In some ways they were like all the other kids. They listened to hip-hop, and they dressed cool.
But they also played viola and violin in the school orchestra. And they loved classical music.
“We were unique kids, living in two worlds,” Wil B says.
Wil B says he’s always been fascinated by the lives of composers. One composer in particular has been especially inspiring for him: Dmitri Shostakovich, a Russian whose music was denounced by the Stalinist regime.
“You can really hear him speaking through the music,” Wil B. “You can feel (the) story of where he came from.
“It’s the same with hip-hop,” he adds. “There’s always a story behind the music.”
It felt perfectly natural for Wil B and Marcus to play gentle chamber music at orchestra practice and then put on headphones and crank Biggie Smalls and Tupac.
But it wasn’t until they both went to college, Wil B to Florida State University and Marcus to Florida International, that they started to, as Wil B says, “put it together.”
What sparked the fusion was an album that a professor played for Marcus.
“He said, ‘Put your instrument away. I want to give you this tape,’” Marcus said in a recent interview with City Link Magazine. “And he gave me this tape which was unbelievable — classical violin with soul and fire. I loved it. I listened to the album all the time trying to figure out how this guy was playing that stuff. The album was called Black Violin, and it was by Stuff Smith.”
Smith was a jazz violinist during the swing era.
Marcus shared it with Wil B, and they decided to form a band and call it Black Violin.
They began performing in clubs around Miami. Then they sent a tape to the legendary Apollo Theater in Harlem. Two years later, they got the call.
The show in New York was an overwhelming success. “That’s when we realized we had something special,” Wil B says. “The Apollo has one of the toughest crowds anywhere.”
Since then, the band’s trajectory has been strictly upward. They’ve toured the world, including a stint performing for soldiers in Iraq. And they’ve received props from heavy hitters in the entertainment industry.
“Innovative, creative, talented, amazing physicality on stage,” Queen Latifah said of Black Violin in an online documentary about the band. “I thought some strings were going to burn up and blow up because they were playing so fast.”
“We’re doing something that’s never been done before,” Wil B says. “When you come to our show, expect to see something you’ve never seen before or experienced. We take it to a new level that no one has ever seen.”