Imagine a concert pianist and your mind will likely conjure up an image of a performer dressed in a suit like Leif Ove Andsnes, Claudio Arrau or even Victor Borge, who played the piano for laughs but wore formal attire.
BLKBOK, aka Charles Wilson III of Detroit, sports a baseball cap and tattoos. Jewels adorn his neck and his fingers, which move on the keys with painted fingernails. But what really sets it apart are the sounds and connections it can produce with a piano.
“There’s this air of elitism,” says BLKBOK. “My idea, and I know the classical community won’t love me forever for saying this, is to completely overturn everything that the classical community holds so firmly on its head. The suffocation, the elitism and the points where you’re supposed to clap – don’t go with that. There should be an on-ramp for people who want to explore this type of music to explore their own emotions.
BLKBOK uses the piano to express feelings that have not been addressed in classical piano standards, so as not to alter the natural sound of the piano, on albums including his latest collection of original songs titled DLUX Black Book and in live shows like the one scheduled for Saturday, July 23 at the Meyerson Symphony Center during his Mixtapes X Counterpoint Tour.
“The advantage of having music without words is that it allows the listener to have their own experience, and I think the part that classical music lacks is allowing everyone to have this space,” says BLKBOK. “Cynicism and racism, it continues to be a fight. The wonderful thing is that I am always up for a fight. They are not going to make me bend. I know who I am, what I am and what I want to bring to people and to me is more important than anything they could say about me.
BLKBOK says he started playing the piano at age 4 and graduated in classical music studies at age 16. He experimented and explored his voice in jazz and hip-hop, performing with big names such as Justin Timberlake, Rihanna and Demi Lovato and with Cirque de Soleil. Michael Jackson Immortal To display. Then, in 2014, at the end of the Cirque de Soleil tour, he fell into a deep depression that lasted two years. Icons + Giants label producer Billy Mann suggested he explore the possibility of a solo piano album, and BLKBOK was born.
“It was a great experience and luckily the experience is going well,” he says.
BLKBOK says he found he could write classical music that matched his voice and style and could also be “accountable” to himself and his audience.
“I never knew what accountability to an audience meant until I was in a workshop where people expected me to deliver music daily,” says BLKBOK. “I learned to have a functional creative practice. I hired [author Seth Godin] to teach me to have a functional creative practice and a functional creative voice. More than anything, many people believe that you wait for the muse to hit you and do something about it. What I discovered is that you work and then the music finds you and you get that inspiration. Work comes first.”
He spent 100 days in 2020 developing songs and sounds for his first black book album. Then, on the 101st day, Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd, 46, by suffocation by pinning Floyd’s neck to the street with his knee. Three other officers guarded the scene and did nothing to stop Chauvin from pinning Floyd with the full weight of his body for 9 minutes and 29 seconds. This tragic stain on America’s history sparked national outrage and a new sense of rage in BLKBOK’s music. He composed “George Floyd & The Struggle for Equality”, which is punctuated by the moving lyrics of a poem written and recited by Lauren Delapenha.
“At the beginning of the piece, I literally bang on the keyboard,” says BLKBOK. “It’s just raw emotion, and I will say that piece took on more emotion because it was happening day by day in pieces. I’ll be angry, then a little sad, and the next day I’m three times as angry because this anger And in between there are moments of sadness and reflection The idea is that the end of the play is the most important, that is to say the hope It is ends with the theme of “We Shall Overcome”.
Every track on BLKBOK’s album is personal on some level, like all good music should be. His song “In Memory Of” explores the two years of depression he endured, a struggle that led to the creation of his piano persona.
“This piece is really about that time in my life, but the beauty is in the last chord,” says BLKBOK. “It looks like the sun is coming out. It was a journey, and I completed it, and at the end of this journey, there was light and sunshine.”
BLKBOK was born only a few years ago, so over the course of Williams’ musical career, he has plenty of time and ground ahead of him to help turn the rising tide of neoclassical expression into a powerful artistic force. He says what he enjoys the most is the challenge of reaching more people with his piano.
“The real challenge for me is to connect more, to connect more deeply,” he says. “There’s always a little discovery when I discover how much I can connect with others.”
It’s a challenge with no clear finish line, but a recent encounter he remembers after a performance in his hometown of Detroit shows him he’s got a big head start.
“This lady introduced me to her four children, who were all piano students,” BLKBOK explains. “The little one came up to me and just looked up and looked at me. He couldn’t believe I had just played the way I did. It was one of the most touching moments. I’m just, wow, I’m that responsible person to inspire her It’s a good thing to pay it forward and see that in real life someone can have appreciation, and I hope that it will lead them to an incredible career like the one I had.
BLKBOK performs at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, July 23, at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, 2301 Flora St. Tickets, available online, start at $26.