When you watch Black Violin play, forget what you know about the violin

When Kevin Sylvester revealed to his mother that he intended to become a professional musician 15 years ago, she cried.

“She broke down when I told her that I was going to do this,” said Sylvester, known as Kev Marcus, calling from his home in Miami.

“She said, ‘I thought that you were just going to study music in college,’” he recalled, saying she had hoped he would pursue medicine.

But he wouldn’t have earned a scholarship if he didn’t study music. Today, his mother is crying happy tears when she watches her son perform as part of Black Violin with his partner Wilner Baptiste, aka Wil B.

The duo, which mixes jazz, hip-hop, funk and classical music, will perform at Koka Booth Amphitheatre in Cary Aug. 18.

“I never dreamed that it would reach this point but it’s amazing how well we’re doing,” Sylvester says. “I think part of it is due to the fact that no one else is doing what we’re doing.”

Black Violin has covered balladeer Sam Smith’s hit “Stay With Me” and recorded a mash-up of Cardi B and Mozart with the National Symphony Orchestra. In 2016, their music appeared on the FOX TV series, “Pitch.”

The act’s latest album was dubbed “Stereotypes,” referring to how Sylvester says he has been perceived.

“When I was looking for a house in my neighborhood not long ago, the Realtor asked if I played for the Miami Dolphins,” Sylvester says. “The reason is because of how I look.”

The musician is 6’2” and 280 pounds.

“So when you see someone like me, I must play football, right? When I tell people that I’m a violinist, they’re shocked. ‘Really?,’ is the reaction I often receive. The other thing is that people view playing the violin as akin to being a rocket scientist. It’s not that but you have to work at it to be good.”

Removing this shock may be one of the reasons Black Violin likes to partner with youth organizations while on tour, exposing more young people to the art form. During the Aug. 18 performance, the duo will perform the grand finale with the Philharmonic Association’s Triangle Youth Music orchestra, a group that teaches classical and jazz music to young musicians. When Black Violin was performing in the Triangle last year, students from Kidznotes played with the group as part of the nonprofit’s annual fundraiser.

Parental influence

Sylvester’s mother is the reason that he picked up a violin. “I didn’t want to be the kid in the neighborhood who played violin but I’m so glad I was pushed,” Sylvester says. “I was dedicated to the violin and I have my career. I put in my time with classical.”

But hip-hop was always there for Sylvester.

“I grew up listening to hip-hop produced by Timbaland and Pharrell Williams,” Sylvester says. “ I loved those beats. That’s part of what has made Black Violin. I look back on that and when I played Drake and Beyoncé songs on the violin. I didn’t know that was the future for me. If I didn’t practice violin and listen to hip-hop, there’s no Black Violin.”

Will Sylvester, who has three daughters, ages 9, 11 and 13, push them to master an instrument like his mother did with him?

“No, I want them to choose what they want to do and be happy,” Sylvester says. “I want them to go to college and pick what works for them. I want them to each put in their 10,000 hours and focus on their passion. They see what I do. If it inspires them, well, great.”

Black Violin is working on a new album, which is expected to be released in early 2019.

“We have a lot of work to do but it’s the best work imaginable,” Sylvester says. “I’m a musician. If my mother had her way, I would be working in a doctor’s office but that’s not my passion. All of those violin lessons, which I was less than crazy about taking, paid off. I have the greatest job in the world. Who else can say that?”

Perhaps Wil B. “Yeah, we’re in this together,” Sylvester says. “Wil understands how lucky we are. We’re thankful and we’re going to take this to another level.”


Who: Black Violin

When: 7:30 p.m. Aug. 18

Where: Koka Booth Amphitheatre, 8003 Regency Parkway, Cary.

Tickets: $25 and $45.

Info: 919-462-2025 or boothamphitheatre.com

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