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Community Advocacy Organization

With Soul in their Strings: Breaking Barriers with a Viola and a Violin

Updated: Feb 27, 2023

courtesy of Black Violin-Wilner Baptist (R) and Kevin Sylvester (L)


Wilner Baptiste (Wil B.) and Kevin Sylvester (Kev Marcus) are the duo that make up two-time Grammy-nominated Black Violin. They are making history, melodically meshing classical and R&B/hip hop together, captivating crowds from around the world.


Baptiste said, “We decided to merge those two worlds together. It is something that happened organically because we are two worlds at the same time. We showed that the two worlds can actually co-exist.”


Both young men started playing their respective stringed instruments in middle school. Their paths later crossed at a performing arts high school. After attending different universities, they came together again to produce. They played violin and viola over popular hip-hop songs at Florida nightclubs, birthing the famous duo, Black Violin, so many have come to admire.


Baptiste’s journey into viola was unexpected as he wanted to play the saxophone but was put in the wrong class. With many of the orchestra seats spoken for, he chose the viola, a larger and heavier string instrument compared to the violin.


“In the beginning, it was very strange to me because I had never seen a string instrument up close. It didn’t take that long for me to develop a love for it, a connection with it…I felt special in a sense because it seemed like such a far reach but for some reason, I am doing it well.”


Classical music has a history of elitism, classism and wealth making it notoriously exclusive. With little representation in classical music, Black Violin is an inspired idea- an incredible dream made possible by two people’s vision, persistence, authenticity and talent, along with the support of those who believed in them. Through their non-profit, Black Violin Foundation, Wil B and Kev Marcus utilize their platform to pave ways for children of all backgrounds and socio-demographics.


Being two African-American men who grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, they have beaten so many odds and broken down barrier after barrier to create their niche corner of an industry that has historically lacked diversity.


“Just being who we are- being two Black guys on stage playing these instruments. That alone gives this idea that this thing (violin or viola) belongs to anybody. I think particularly for kids. Having kids seeing us perform- they can see themselves in us…Whether they want to pursue the violin or not, that’s fine. They can pursue something they thought was impossible. Now, after seeing us, they know it is possible.”


Black Violin Foundation provides nearly 30 scholarships each year that fund access to instruments, along with the opportunity to attend traveling music camps or continue music education. The creators believe it is of equal importance to encourage a dream as well as provide the equipment to carry it out; the foundation’s intention is to sustain aspirations, removing the ceilings that a child has no control over.


Baptiste shared, “I had a teacher who provided an instrument to me to audition for college. Without that, I may have been discouraged. We are providing things that bridge the gaps. It is one of the greatest things we are doing right now.”


With inspiration from the greats, Wil B uses music as a mirror, to represent a reflection of the human experience, of himself and those around him. He garners inspiration from Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley and Kendrick Lamar; although artistically different, he highlights the one thing they do have in common that they each uniquely express: power.


Baptiste said, “Music is a very, very powerful tool. To inspire, to uplift, to get people to activate. ”


One of the first shows (Feb 28) of their 2023 tour was held at Wharton Center in East Lansing just over two weeks after tragedy struck Michigan State’s campus (Feb 13); there are many within the community in search of inspiration, hope, uplifting positivity and activation.


“I am blessed and I am humbled to be invited to do this. We are living in grim times, ya know? If I can do something…that can give some kind of hope or it make people feel good…makes people look inside themselves. I hope that people are able to grab a piece of themselves back through our performance. Life is crazy right now so if I can bring a smile to someone’s face and make somebody feel good and feel seen, that is a plus in my book.”



To keep up with this dynamic duo, visit here.

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