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The musical duo Black Violin’s Brief But Spectacular take on defying stereotypes
Judy Woodruff: When Kev Marcus and Wil B. met in a high school music class, they shared their desire to disrupt people's impressions of what classical music should be.
Together, they formed a group called Black Violin, which we featured on the "NewsHour" early on in their success.
Well, they're back in tonight's Brief But Spectacular, as part of our arts and culture coverage, Canvas.
Wil B.: People ask me, what do I do? What's in this case? I tell them that it's a viola. It's a violin. And their response is, you don't play classical, do you?
Wil B.: Is that what you do?
Kev Marcus: No.
Wil B.: With a serious face.
Kev Marcus: Not you.
Wil B.: Not classical, right?
Wil B.: There's no way you...
Kev Marcus: Our whole life, everybody was like, even in my family, they were like, why you got -- you have Kevin playing the violin. It's not -- he's not supposed to be doing that.
I always listen to those type of things, and I'm like, oh, well, I guess we're not supposed to be violinists because we're Black? Well, we're going to be the Blackest violinists you have ever seen.
We approach it very, very classically. But -- so the violin part of it is always very baroque, Bach, Mozart-like, not much sliding, not much jazz. But the beats and everything that's around it is hard-hitting, dirty.
Wil B.: It's fun. It's very inclusive. We have people dancing in the aisles. Our music just really brings people together.
Kev Marcus: We're able to blend and go between different genres.
And that's why it brings a really wide, large audience of people.
I grew up in a tough neighborhood, and I guess my mom wanted me to get away from some of my friends, because I was going down the wrong path. So, she put me in this Saturday music program, with the hopes that I would get into the performing arts middle school, so I would be bussed away from my friends. And that's exactly what ended up happening.
I went to performing arts school and just was able to focus on violin.
Wil B.: I went to the class my first day, and I noticed all these wood instruments. I was looking for the cool instruments, the saxophones and the trumpets. And they told me that I got put in this class. And we were stand partners.
And, obviously, I was first...
Kev Marcus: You know the truth.
Wil B.: I was better.
Wil B.: We have always really fed off each other and competed against each other, and we made each other better.
Kev Marcus: We have always just made good music. Every time we get together, the vibe was always right.
So, I feel like, looking back, it kind of made sense that we would have a 20-year career together now, because that's how it was in high school.
My college professor, my first day of class, gives me a tape back, in 1999. He tells me, go home and listen to this tape and then come tell me about it next week.
So, I pop this tape in. And it's like a violin on fire, like a violin with soul. And I never heard a violin played like that before. But when I listened to it, I could tell it was a Black guy playing it. And I never had that experience with the violin.
So, it just changed my entire perception of what the violin could do. And I gave the tape to Wil. And he was vibing it too. Many years later, we named ourselves after the inspiration, the thing that changed our entire perception. This tape was recorded by a violinist.
His name was Stuff Smith. This is his last album he recorded before he died. And that album was called "Black Violin." That album changed the way we perceived the violin, so now the main Black Violin continues to change and challenge people's perceptions.
Wil B.: There's nothing like doing something that you absolutely love and affecting people at the same time. No amount of Grammys, no amount of money can really do that for you.
Kev Marcus: Now, ultimately, I have always played the violin because no one expects me to do it. And I liked changing people's perceptions of what is possible.
We are Black Violin. I am Kev Marcus.
Wil B.: Wil Baptiste.
Kev Marcus: And this has been our Brief But Spectacular take on defying stereotypes.
Judy Woodruff: Educating a lot of us about the violin.
Thank you, both.