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Black Violin brings a fusion of classical music and hip-hop to Aspen

Violist Wil Baptiste (left) and violinist Kev Marcus (right) formed the duo Black Violin two decades ago. The band is now on a national tour, joined onstage by a DJ and other musicians.
Mark Clennon
Courtesy Photo
Violist Wil Baptiste (left) and violinist Kev Marcus (right) formed the duo Black Violin two decades ago. The band is now on a national tour, joined onstage by a DJ and other musicians.

When Wil Baptiste and Kev Marcus started Black Violin two decades ago, their idea for a fusion of two seemingly disparate genres seemed like a tough sell.

“It was hard, definitely, at the beginning, 20 years ago, trying to convince people, like, ‘Hey, I got these two black guys that play, you know, classical — but they do it on hip-hop (beats),” Marcus said in an interview.

But they also “relished” in the challenge, and found a sense of purpose in convincing people to listen. Over time, the music caught on; they’re now Grammy-nominated artists on a national tour, joined by a DJ and other musicians onstage.

“We've been able to kind of create something out of thin air that is ours, and it's really, really cool,” Marcus said. “That's the most fulfilling part of it, is that it's like we just were fearless with it and did what we felt we wanted our music to sound like.”

The tour stops in Aspen on Friday, for a 7:30 p.m. performance at the Wheeler Opera House. Marcus said he wants the audience to leave the show with a “thirst for life” — and a drive to pursue their own passions.

“We want every young student that is in our audience not to just go be a violinist because I'm a violinist,” Marcus said. “It's like, what is it that you love to do? What makes you tick?” 

Marcus will be playing the violin onstage; Baptiste is on the viola and vocals. The two met in a high school orchestra class, back in the 1990s, and found inspiration in a “melting pot” of creativity.

The duo wants to ensure students today have those same opportunities, so they also launched a nonprofit, the Black Violin Foundation, to support young musicians — as well as music programs that encourage creative innovation. The philanthropic arm is co-directed by Marcus’s wife Anne Sylvester and Baptiste’s wife Corryn Freeman.

Marcus says a big part of the mission is empowering students of color, by providing resources like new instruments and scholarships for private lessons or college courses.

“When I see string programs just getting slashed left and right across the country — music programs in general — I see less black and brown kids being exposed to the classes that are still available,” Marcus said. “We feel like there's something that needs to be done. And we're in a unique position where we can try to help.”

Students who might benefit from those programs can find more information at blackviolinfoundation.org. Applications for one of the grant initiatives will open up in a few weeks, Marcus said.

Kaya Williams is the Edlis Neeson Arts and Culture Reporter at Aspen Public Radio, covering the vibrant creative and cultural scene in Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley. She studied journalism and history at Boston University, where she also worked for WBUR, WGBH, The Boston Globe and her beloved college newspaper, The Daily Free Press. Williams joins the team after a stint at The Aspen Times, where she reported on Snowmass Village, education, mental health, food, the ski industry, arts and culture and other general assignment stories.