Wil Baptiste never planned on playing the viola. In eighth grade, Baptiste signed up for band class with the intention of learning the saxophone but was mistakenly placed in strings class instead. Up until a few years ago, Baptiste had always believed his misplacement was just an honest oversight by the school.
“I’ve always told people the reason why I got into strings was an accident. I came to find out [my teachers] did it on purpose,” Baptiste laughs. “The band teacher and the strings teacher had a bet. They played golf to see who would get me in their class.”
Although Baptiste, now 32, couldn’t have known it then, he was fortunate that the band teacher at Parkway Middle School of the Arts didn’t have a very strong golf game. Without a few missed putts and a shanked drive here and there, Baptiste may have never picked up the instrument he was destined to play.
Baptiste’s run of good fortune didn’t end with those 18 holes, either. While at Fort Lauderdale’s Dillard High School, Baptiste met Kevin Sylvester, a violinist and fellow member of the school orchestra. The two budding musicians struck up a friendship and, after attending separate colleges, reunited to form Black Violin in 2004.
To say it didn’t take long for the duo to send shock waves through the music world would be an understatement. Black Violin’s genre-defying mixture of classical, rock, hip-hop and pop music quickly landed them a performance at the Billboard Music Awards with Alicia Keys during their first year as a group. Only a year later, Black Violin was awarded the title of Apollo Legend by the legendary Apollo Theatre in Harlem.
Since those early years, Baptiste and Sylvester have released two albums, toured the world, and played or collaborated with world-renowned artists, including Kanye West, Tom Petty and Aretha Franklin. Black Violin also had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play at the president’s inaugural ball and the kids’ inaugural concert in 2013.
Although Black Violin has accomplished an extraordinary amount in a relatively short time, the duo remains firmly rooted in the community that they grew up in. In an effort to give back, Black Violin frequently performs benefit shows to support keeping the arts in schools, including a recent show at Plumosa School of the Arts in Delray Beach.
“We understand the importance of the arts,” Baptiste says. “[However], it’s really not about picking up the violin and doing what we’re doing. The whole point of a Black Violin show is about taking something that you’re passionate about and taking it further than anyone’s ever taken it.”
Just how far Black Violin takes their music remains to be seen. If the duo’s history is any indication, though, we should expect them to live up to their words.
“We see ourselves taking over the world,” Baptiste adds confidently. “At the same time, [we’re] content and thankful. But that doesn’t mean [we’re] not striving to do more.”