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BLKBOK brings neo-classical piano to City Winery

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
BLKBOK brings neo-classical piano to City Winery
Charles Wilson III, aka BLKBOK. COURTESY PHOTO

Charles Wilson III, aka BLKBOK, is a genre-defying pianist melding the emotion and power of hip-hop beats with the poignant strains of Mozart. The Detroit-born artist will bring his unique style of performance to Boston’s City Winery on Feb. 24.

BLKBOK (coming from the namesake Bach) was born into a musical family, and the classical genre laid the foundation for his auditory study. From childhood, the artist was performing around Detroit in different circles, absorbing all the city’s different styles.

“Detroit has such a diverse music community — Motown, the Gospel community and the jazz community,” says BLKBOK. “And I became a part of that. And that very much influenced what I was doing.”

The pianist’s skills did not go unnoticed. BLKBOK has toured with Justin Timberlake, Rihanna, John Mayer and other pop artists. After years of working in popular genres, BLKBOK never imagined he would return to classical music. But the draw of those musical origins was too strong.

He has created a dynamic body of work in the classical style. The original solo pieces range from hard-hitting social justice commentary, as in “George Floyd & The Struggle for Equality,” to romantic waltzes like “I Made Her Breakfast.” These are neo-classical piano compositions that tell contemporary stories in a bold and powerful way.

“The thing that I think is really important is to be able to tap into these real cultural moments and be able to tell the story through my own eyes and give people a bit of what it feels like through [the lens of] a Black man in 2023,” says BLKBOK.

But the artist hasn’t just returned to the classical music genre — he’s turned it upside down. BLKBOK brings audience engagement into his performances in a way that’s typical in pop but unheard of in the classical realm. His work has become a fusion of the many styles and experiences throughout his career.

East Boston-based musical non-profit ZUMIX will curate a selection of local artists to open for BLKBOK during his City Winery performance, illustrating the myriad diverse genres used by Boston artists as well.

“When people see me, snapback, inked up Black man, they make a lot of assumptions about me,” says BLKBOK in a trailer for “Black Book,” his recent album. “They expect me to start rapping. And they’re not 100% wrong, I am a rapper. Except I spit lyrics and I tell my stories through my hands with these notes.”