Wil Baptiste of Black Violin: Grammy Nomination and Denver Show

The genre-blending classical hip-hop duo Black Violin has been smashing stereotypes for the last 20 years. Their stage presence is electric, and they’ll be playing a show at Denver’s Paramount Theater on Sunday, February 4th.


Violist Will Baptiste and violinist Kev Marcus are Black Violin, and Wil joins me now.

Hello Wil, How are you?

I’m doing really well.

Thanks so much for joining us on KGNU.

No problem. Thanks for having me.

As I mentioned in my intro, 2024 marks Black Violin’s 20th anniversary. What inspired you to start a group like this, and how has the journey been so far?

I’m doing good.

Thanks so much for joining us on KGNU.

No problem. Thanks for having me.

As I mentioned in my intro, 2024 marks Black Violin’s 20th anniversary. What inspired you to start a group like this, and how has the journey been so far?

Oh, what inspired us? Well, the funny thing is, after these classical degrees and being, uh, you know, we felt like, what are we doing with these degrees, and why are we pursuing this? You know, especially at the time of September 11th, classical music was fading away in South Florida. So, I think we did this out of necessity, less necessity, you know, trying to, you know, go out and play gigs. The combination of these two genres is something that we’ve always done. So it was very natural for us to do, very organic. And we didn’t think anyone liked it until, you know, we started performing in clubs and events, and we started seeing the reaction. And uh, and again, 20 years, and it’s been a little longer than 20 years, honestly. But you know, all these years, people still like it and love it.

Well, how long has Black Violin been together?

We’ve been together for at least 23 years. But I think in terms of, like, the establishment of Black Violin… I think we won the Apollo. Right? That was kind of like our first thing. We won Showtime at the Apollo in 2004. I think it aired in 2005. So it’s about 20 years since Black Violin established themselves, so that makes sense.

How would you say you bridge the gap between hip-hop and classical music?

The way that we bridge the gap is you have these two different genres that are honestly not that much different. If you think about it. You think about the, the, um, composers in the back in the day, the Mozart and Beethoven’s of the world. And you think about the hip hop producers of today, and they’re very, very similar in terms of, um, how if, let’s say, for instance, I’m putting together a waltz or a dance. I needed this new, fresh tune; I’m going to hit up Beethoven and say, hey, man, I got this party going on. I need you to whip up something dope. So, the same thing, you know, with these producers now. So I think what’s happening, what we’re doing is we’re, we’re bridging this, this, this idea that, listen, this instrument isn’t necessarily it’s not supposed to be just for this one thing. That’s how it’s been projected, but you can do whatever you want. And I think it preserves the genre, allowing these new listeners to come in and appreciate classical music. And it also allows classical music lovers to come into this world, the hip-hop world, and see and appreciate it. They see it as art and love it as well.

photo credit: Jessica Yurinko

Have you had a lot of new converts from the classical music side?

(laughs) Yeah. So we do, actually.

I mean, there are always kind of, um, a surprise of, of what we’re doing because, you know, playing it, playing the instrument is not something that playing hip hop is not something that you’re taught. Right. You know, how do you play something that you just thought of, you know, that’s, you know, you could find the most amazing violinist and tell them to play something, play whatever. And they’re looking at you like, I don’t know, give me a piece of music so I can play it. I don’t know what you’re talking about, you know? So they’re always amazed at us being able to do that. So we do have a lot of classical musicians that classical lovers can, can, uh, completely relate to what we do. But then again, if they don’t, we don’t care. It’s, you know, at the end of the day, we’re just being who we are. We’re artists, and we’re expressing ourselves, and we love what we do. And honestly, that’s just what that’s the only thing that matters.

Your national tour this year, 2024, includes a stop in Denver, and it looks like the group is pretty busy through April. What can your fans look forward to when they see you? When you come to the Paramount here in Denver.

It’s going to be another memorable night. It’s going to be epic! It’s going to be, um, loud. Um, it’s going to be a, you know, like if you’ve seen our show in Denver, it’s a rock concert, but instead of guitars, you got violins, you know.  It’s it’s inspiring. I think one of the things we love to see in the crowd is we love to see a mixed crowd with kids and adults and different people, different backgrounds, and we love to see that. So, it’s going to be another epic, fun night.

I noticed that your concert here in Denver happens to coincide with the Grammy Awards ceremony, and your song “The Message” has been nominated in the Best Americana Performance category. What was your reaction when you heard the news, and did you sense there was something special about this song from the start?

I was very surprised by the song, and the song came about where, you know, we did a few tours with the Blind Boys of Alabama and, and, um, they had this song, and they said, hey guys, what can you do on this song? And we figured, you know, we’ve met and seen them. They’re legends in the game. So we, you know, do what we do. I didn’t know that it was going to do anything. Honestly, we were pleasantly surprised. But again, I think it’s just amazing how they’ve been able to do what they do for as long as they have. They paved the way for artists such as myself, and I love what they do. And, uh, you know, we would love we would have loved for them to have won. But I’m sure there, you know, there are more nominations in the future.

Let’s hope so. Looking ahead this year, are you working on any new recording projects?

We’re in the studio right now, working on a new album. Not sure what it’s going to be called. I’m not sure when it’s going to come out, but we are, um, coming up with a new album. Hopefully, we’ll put out a single or, you know, this year, we’re trying to create a lot more music. You know, I think our last record was 2020, the Christmas Album. So we’re due for another album.

All right. We’re looking forward to it. What can you tell our listeners about the Black Violin Foundation and how it benefits young musicians?

                                   Black Violin working with young musicians. (pc: Turnaround Arts)

Well, the Black Violin Foundation (above) is a foundation that we try to give back to the youth, um, in a way that we feel that we, we got, you know, growing up, whatever we needed, whether it was an instrument, whether it was a flight to a music camp, we’ve always had someone there to help fill that gap, you know? And that’s what we want to do: fill that gap for any young adult who is passionate about his instrument but, you know, can’t control the fact that they can’t afford certain things. You know, um, that’s where we come in. And you can go to the foundation’s website, Black Violin Foundation.org. And, uh, we’re giving out, uh, give out scholarships every year, you know, and, uh, and that’s, and that’s just what we try to do, man, because the one thing that we hate to see is kids with dreams. And they have these aspirations and, and it’s being taken away or snuffed out because of something they have no control over, you know, so, so that’s, that’s the whole premise of the Black Violin Foundation is to fill the gaps to, to provide kids with, with the opportunity that they, they wouldn’t else have. You know.

Thank you for providing that opportunity for young people. That’s so important!

Absolutely!

Will Baptiste, thanks so much for your time today. And we look forward to seeing Black Violin here in Denver.

Thanks for having me.

Black Violin will perform their unique blend of classical and hip-hop music at Denver’s Paramount Theater on Sunday, February 4th, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets and more info can be found at the Paramount Theatre or by calling (303) 892-7016.

This interview has been edited for continuity and clarity.

About the author: From the San Francisco Bay Area to the Big Island of Hawaii, Steve Roby has worked as a journalist, entertainment photographer, magazine editor, radio host (San Francisco, Hawaii, and Denver), and video documentarian. Since 1989, he has been writing about music and interviewing musicians. Roby is also a published author of three books, one on the L.A. Times Non-Fiction Hardcover Best Seller List.

Featured image: Dave Pearson

Steve Roby

Steve Roby

From the San Francisco Bay Area to the Big Island of Hawaii, Steve Roby has worked as a music journalist, entertainment photographer, magazine editor, radio host (San Francisco, Hawaii, and Denver), and video documentarian. Roby is also a published author of three books, one on the L.A. Times Non-Fiction Hardcover Best Seller List. He’s been featured in The New York Times, Rolling Stone (x2), and Billboard. He’s now based in Denver.
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