For classically trained violist Wilner Baptiste, known on stage as Wil B., the success of his Grammy-nominated string duo Black Violin, formed in 2004, is easily explained.
“We were just two young guys who got into something new, and while we were doing that, we tried to perfect it,” he said by phone from Miami, his home base. and that of violinist Kevin Sylvester, who passes by the stage. name Kev Marcus.
The “something new” they got into was performing hip-hop music on traditional classical instruments.
“We’re doing something unique that appeals to the masses,” Wil B. said. “We’ve been doing this for a long time now, and we’ve met other string players who have been influenced by what we do.”
Black Violin performs for the fourth time Monday at the Luther Burbank Center in Santa Rosa. The duo have become a popular attraction on the site. Their last show at the center was on January 31, 2019. The act had previously appeared there in 2016 and 2017.
“We’re excited to be back,” Wil B. said. “If you’ve never been to one of our shows, it’s exciting for the audience as well.”
Kev Marcus and Wil B. met in orchestra class at Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale, training in classical music throughout their high school and college years. After college, they worked with South Florida rappers and began to build a following in local clubs.
They later won the “Showtime at the Apollo” competition in 2005 and eventually sold out shows at venues across the country, including a two-night sold-out title at the Kennedy Center in 2018.
The duo is known for collaborating with rappers and R&B musicians, including Alessia Cara, 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne. They also toured with Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda, opened for the Wu-Tang Clan, and composed the music for the Fox series “Pitch.”
Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has put an end to this kind of collaboration.
“We don’t have any collaborations going right now,” Wil B. said. “We want to try some more when we start a new album. This summer we will probably go back to the studio and record new music.
The duo’s fourth and final recording, a Christmas album called “Give Thanks”, was released in 2020 during the virus shutdown, which also prevented touring.
“It was really tough,” Wil B. said of the enforced hiatus, “but we made the most of it, spending time with the family and recording the Christmas album.”
Their previous album, “Take The Stairs”, was nominated for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album at the 2021 Grammy Awards.
One endeavor that hasn’t been interrupted by the coronavirus has been the duo’s work with their Black Violin Foundation, which reaches over 100,000 students each year through free performances and by working with youth symphonies, community centers and schools in low-income areas.
“Our foundation aims to create access for children who have a passion for music. We have never stopped, even during the pandemic,” said Wil B.. “We have done virtual workshops, and we will still do more live performances now that schools are open.”
You can reach editor Dan Taylor at [email protected] or 707-521-5243. On Twitter @danarts.