The UMass Amherst Fine Arts Center launches its new “Bodies at Risk” event series with a free livestream presentation of classical hip-hop duo Black Violin on Friday, Oct. 2 at 7 p.m. ET. Black Violin will perform music from their recent repertoire, followed by a conversation on the state of Black music and art in the U.S. today moderated by African American studies scholar Stephanie Shonekan. More information and free tickets are available online at fineartscenter.com/blackviolin.
“Bodies at Risk” at the Fine Arts Center is a new series of creative conversations between BIPOC performing artists, educators, activists and other experts working to shift American society’s understanding of the racialized body and social justice. These events aim to engage, move, and surprise audiences through artistic demonstration and intellectual curiosity. Artist and audience chat are included and encouraged for each event. Other events this fall include nationally-renowned dance artists Ananya Chatterjea (Ananya Dance Theatre) and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar (Urban Bush Women) in conversation on Wednesday, Oct. 14, and acclaimed Native American playwright Larissa Fasthorse with groundbreaking neuroscientist Erich Jarvis on Monday, Oct. 19.
Black Violin is led by classically trained string players Wil B. (viola) and Kev Marcus (violin). The band uses their unique blend of classical and hip-hop music, often described as “classical boom,” to overcome stereotypes and encourage people of all ages, races and economic backgrounds to join together to break down cultural barriers. Black Violin’s latest studio album, “Take the Stairs,” debuted in 2019 at #1 on the Billboard Classical Chart, #1 on the Billboard Classical Crossover Chart, #7 on Billboard’s Top New Artists Chart, and #9 on the Billboard Hip Hop and R&B Chart. Their previous album, “Stereotypes,” also debuted #1 on Classical Crossover Chart and #4 on the Billboard R&B Chart. Creative collaborators include Kanye West, Wu-Tang Clan, Wyclef Jean, Lil Wayne, Alicia Keys and others. Black Violin have also played at President Obama’s 2013 Inauguration and the keynote performance for the 2014 SXSW Conference.
Black Violin place heavy emphasis on educational outreach and perform for more than 100,000 students each year. Recently, they were announced as Turnaround Artists for Mary B. Bethune Elementary School in their hometown of Broward County, Fla. Turnaround Arts, a national education program of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, infuses arts into struggling schools to support overall reform efforts. Through their student engagement and public performances, Black Violin challenge stereotypes and preconceived notions of what a “classical musician” looks and sounds like.
“The stereotypes are always there, embedded so deep in our culture,” says Wil B. “Just by nature of our existence we challenge those ideas. It’s a unique thing that brings people together who aren’t usually in the same room, and in the current climate, it’s good to bring people together.”
Black Violin is endorsed by Yamaha Music and Bose and has partnered with the National Association for Music Manufacturers (NAMM) to continue their advocacy for accessible music education.
Stephanie Shonekan is associate dean of the College of Arts and Science and professor of music at the University of Missouri, and former faculty at Columbia College Chicago and UMass Amherst. Shonekan’s dual heritage combines West Africa with the West Indies. Her publications explore the nexus where identity, history, culture and music meet, including articles on afrobeat, Fela Kuti, as well as American and Nigerian hip-hop, and books, “The Life of Camilla Williams, African American Classical Singer and Opera Diva,” “Soul, Country, and the USA: Race and Identity in American Music Culture,” “Black Lives Matter & Music” and “Black Resistance in the Americas.”