first big break came in 2004 when they won the famous “Showtime at the Apollo” talent contest. That led to gigs with Alicia Keys and Puff Daddy and a performance at President Barack Obama’s second inauguration.
Perhaps the group’s biggest fans, however, are schoolchildren and teachers. The high-energy concerts have introduced thousands of kids to classical music in a way that speaks to them. Just as potent are their lessons about creativity and being true to yourself. “Ultimately, it’s not even about music,” says Marcus. “That’s just the tool we use. It’s about what can you do that nobody has ever seen before. You can be a chef or a football star or whatever — just find your thing, and do it in a way no one else done it.”
Seeing things from a different perspective is at the heart of Black Violin’s recently released major-label debut, “Stereotypes.” The group was already deep into production on a third album, which includes guest appearances by Robert Glasper and Melanie Fiona, when inspiration for the title came to them in a hotel elevator. As they were heading out to the studio with violins in tow, a woman on the elevator asked what was in the cases. When they told her, she asked what kind of music they played, since “obviously you guys don’t play classical.”
“It’s kind of the stereotype we always get,” says Marcus. “I’m a 6-foot-2, 260-pound big black dude with a beard. I look like I should be running a barbecue pit in Memphis where instead I’m playing classical violin the way you’ve never seen it. Our mission is totally to break stereotypes and think outside of the box.”
The resulting title track sets the tone for a record that brings a newfound seriousness to Black Violin’s message of openness and acceptance. But “Stereotypes” is no strident polemic. And the duo still has its trademark musical diversity on display, with covers of Aaron Copland’s “Shaker” melody from “Appalachian Spring,” The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony” and a version of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “Walk On By” that takes its cues from Stax star Isaac Hayes’ 1969 version.