Black Violin is a hard band to describe – but defying stereotypes is kind of the point for the duo of classically trained, string-instrument wielding, hip-hop artists who will perform in Mount Airy on Friday.
Florida natives Wil Baptiste and Kev Marcus will bring their distinctive sound to The Historic Earle Theatre stage for two performances, a student show at 11 a.m. and one at 7:30 p.m. for the general public.
The pair gave potential audience members a taste of their style in a short Facebook promo video, in which Baptiste riffs on the viola in the background while Marcus tells viewers “it’s going to be crazy.”
In the duo’s bio, Baptiste described the sound as “A hard-hitting beat with lush string sounds. Something you can listen to if you don’t listen to hip-hop, or if you don’t listen to classical music — we bridge that gap.”
“It’s not like anything we’ve seen here before,” said Tanya Jones, executive director of the Surry Arts Council, which is hosting the event through a South Arts grant.
“Black Violin was chosen because of their artistic excellence, their appeal to youth, their focus on education and blending of several musical genres,” she said.
“We had heard a lot of great things about this group,” said Melissa Sumner, director of operations. “It’s a really fun show.”
Baptiste and Marcus grew up listening to hip-hop and met in their performing arts high school orchestra, where Baptiste played the viola and Marcus the violin.
After college they developed an act covering hip-hop songs on their instruments.
Two years after sending in a tape to Showtime at the Apollo, they were invited to appear on the show — which they won.
They went on to back a diverse group of top artists including Alicia Keys and performed at President Barack Obama’s second inauguration in 2013.
A 2015 release of their first major-label album “Stereotypes,” debuted on the Billboard chart at #1 on the Classical and Classical Crossover charts.
The duo was featured on NPR’s Morning Edition and their most recent 10 – and counting – shows have been sold out.
“We’re hugely fortunate to have them come to Mount Airy,” Jones said. “It’s a show for every age.”
Inspiring the youth
The Surry Arts Council discovered Black Violin while researching a grant from South Arts, which required an artist from outside North Carolina as well as an educational component.
On Friday, the duo will perform for about 425 students from Surry County and Mount Airy City Schools fifth grade classes.
Principals have been provided a study guide so teachers can incorporate the experience into a broader educational context.
In addition to information on how the band came to be what it is, the study guide includes grade-appropriate literature connections and resources, information about music components referenced in their music and the benefits of music study in general, and suggestions for pre- and post-show activities.
“That component really enticed us,” said Sumner, adding that admission to the evening show is free to area high school students with student identification.
“We just like the message they give — it’s OK to be different,” Sumner said.
“It’s a confidence builder. We hope to inspire some students to step out of their comfort zone and explore a different side of themselves.”
Noting that stringed instruments are the foundation of Surry County’s musical heritage, Jones explained that a group like Black Violin honors that tradition while offering new possibilities.
“It shows what they can do with stringed instruments outside Surry County,” Jones said. “They have a lot of ways they connect various genres.”
Tickets, priced at $25 for reserved orchestra seats and $15 for balcony seats (general admission), can be purchased from the Surry Arts Council office at 218 Rockford Street or by calling the office at 336-786-7998.
Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.