Quick Q&A With Kev Marcus Of Black Violin

The duo, which meshes classical, jazz, and hip-hop violin, plays Clowes Hall on February 18.
Blending hip-hop and classical may sound a little high-strung, but violinists Kev Marcus (pictured, right) and Wil Baptiste have played their way to fame doing just that. Calling themselves Black Violin, the duo has worked with Kanye West, Tom Petty, and the Eagles. They even performed for former president Barack Obama at the 2013 Inaugural Ball. As they prepare for a show on Butler University’s campus this month, we caught up with Marcus to chat about touring, race, and baseball.
What made you pick up a violin as a kid? It seems like a tough instrument.
My mom made me. She just wanted me to do something different. I was running around with the wrong kids in the neighborhood and she wanted to find something else to occupy my time.
When did you start?
The fifth grade. I was 9 years old. I’ve been playing for 26 years.
Did you like classical music when you were growing up?
I never listened to classical music. It was always either hip-hop or R&B. As far as appreciation of classical music, that came later in college. But I still to this day listen to more hip-hop music than anything. Classical music is almost like baseball to me. I love to play baseball, but I don’t like to watch it. I love playing classical, but I don’t sit around and listen to it all day.
When you first picked up a violin, did you ever imagine you’d be where you are today?
No, I never thought this would happen. Even now, I’m sitting in my tour bus and thinking, “Wow! I’ve got a tour bus.” It’s crazy. I always loved playing the violin, not only because it allowed me to express myself but also because every time I pick it up, I change people’s perceptions. When people see me with it, when they see me and Wil in Black Violin, it changes what they thought a black man could do. It changes what a violin could sound like. It makes them question their beliefs prior to the show. I love that music can actually change things, even if it’s so slightly.
How do people react to your shows?
The live setting is the best for us. That’s where we’re best understood. Last night, we were in Phoenix and there were 3,000 people there, and they’re all kinds of people. There were 5-year-old kids and there was one lady who was 96 and in a wheelchair. She came up to us after the show and we signed her Black Violin T-shirt. It’s a very unifying experience—you can dance with your mother and your kid. To my knowledge, there aren’t a lot of concerts where you can do that. We bridge the gap between generations a lot like we bridge classical and hip-hop.
Can concertgoers expect singing, or is it mostly instrumental?
Wil is the lead singer and I’m the emcee—in the traditional sense, the master of ceremonies. There are vocals, although I would say it’s about 70-30 instrumental. The instruments do most of the work.
And you’re on an aptly named “Unity Tour,” which I’m sure people could use right now.
Yeah, the Unity Tour is especially important now. It actually started in September, and I didn’t realize how divided we were until the election played out. When you look around at our shows, we have black people, white people, just every kind of person from every background. We like to point that out on stage: We’re better together than divided, and we have more in common than we don’t.
I know you’re touring nonstop, but are you working on any new projects?
Yep! We’re working on a new record right now. It’s still untitled at the moment, but it’s coming along. We have a ton of shows straight through the fall, but we try to squeeze in work on the album when we have a day off. A lot of it gets done on the bus.
Black Violin has had an incredible run the last few years. What has been the most exciting moment?
The 2013 inauguration was huge for us, shaking the president’s hand the same day he took the oath of office. But we also had our own show on Broadway that was sold out for 28 shows. We played for our troops in Iraq. We’ve just been grinding and going uphill. Every year, it’s better, we’re better.