BLKBOK is not your parent’s classical music. The neo-classical piano prodigy from Detroit is using his talents to introduce the world of classical music to an entirely new generation of music lovers. BLKBOK joins Dr. Christina Greer to talk about his musical bloodline, his love for aviation & Nascar, and what’s next for this rising star.
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[00:00:00] You are now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, Black Culture Amplified.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:00:06] Hi, and welcome to the Blackest Questions. I’m your host, Dr. Christina Greer, politics editor for theGrio and associate professor of political science at Fordham University. In this podcast, we ask our guest five of the Blackest questions so we can learn a little bit more about them and have some fun while we’re doing it. We’re also going to learn a lot about Black history, past and present. So here’s how this works. We have five rounds of questions about us. Black history, the entire diaspora, current events, you name it. And with each round, the questions get a little tougher and the guest has 10 seconds to get it right. If they answer the question correctly, they’ll receive one symbolic Black best and they’ll hear this. And if they get it wrong, they’ll hear this. But we still love them anyway. And after the five questions, there’ll be a Black bonus round at the end. Just for fun. I like to call it Black, like our guest for this episode is neo classical pianist and composer BLKBOK. Born Charles Wilson III. BLKBOK explosive and immersive live music performances engage his audience with his incredible talent and channel his experience from sharing the stage with the world’s biggest performers as lead pianist or musical director with artists including Rihanna, Justin Timberlake, Demi Lovato, Cirque du Soleil, John Mayer, and many, many more. BLKBOK Create critically acclaimed debut album Black Book served as a founding cornerstone at the Juneteenth Foundation’s Freedom Concert and its first mixtape release Cover Art and current mixtape Project Angels Watching Over Me with world renowned tenor Lawrence Brownlee illustrate the innovative and disruptive musical landscape that is Black back oh. Oh eight. Hello, BLKBOK. Thank you so much for joining the Blackest Questions.
BlkBok [00:01:53] Thank you. That is so cool to be here.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:01:55] Listen, I’m trying not to be nervous because I have been taking piano since I was an itty bitty. And so I was like, before you came, I was like, okay, should I dust off this keyboard and start, you know, doing my little chopsticks and trying to do my runs? So talk us, how did you get into piano? Are you, you know, from a musical family? And why this particular instrument? I’m always fascinated as to did piano choose you or did you choose piano?
BlkBok [00:02:25] Actually, my mom chose piano and then she gave me no options.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:02:29] They we go.
BlkBok [00:02:29] So I come from a musical family. Yes. Granddad was a music legend in Memphis. Uncles were also saxophonists and tap dancers. And then my mom was like, you know, you’re going to do this or, you know, or else.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:02:45] Right.
BlkBok [00:02:46] Oh, piano is just the choice.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:02:47] And I always say Black moms always give us an option, right? So if you’re doing this or this is going to happen. So you do technically have options, but it’s just not the most ideal.
BlkBok [00:02:57] If you don’t take option B like it, there’s only option A. Yeah.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:03:00] And so I know that, you know, Bach is one of your favorite composers, who are some of your other influences? I’m a huge Mozart fan. I could listen to Mozart, you know, while I’m writing, while I’m cleaning, just to kind of clear my head. Who are some of the folks that you that are your go to composers that really inspire you.
BlkBok [00:03:19] In the classical world, I would say that my go to composers are Debussy and Chopin. Very much in romantic music. I love what Chopin had to say. Like his perspective. Amazing.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:03:33] Now, tell us, what’s one of your favorite Chopin overtures that we should we should check out on YouTube?
BlkBok [00:03:40] All the nocturnes. Any of the nocturnes.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:03:42] Any of the nocturnes. Okay. And then outside of the classical world, do you listen to any jazz pianists?
BlkBok [00:03:48] Of course.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:03:49] Okay.
BlkBok [00:03:49] I’m a big Thelonious Monk fan. I’m also a McCoy Tyner fan. Back in my early days, I still listen to, I would say, like Patrice Russian. So it’s just a little you know, my listening is wide. I listen to everything.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:04:05] Yeah, well, I find that great musicians tend to have a diffuse palette, if you will, and tell us how the name BLKBOK came about. So it’s B,L,K, B, O, K.
BlkBok [00:04:18] Okay. So two things. First one was, you know, a shot, shout out to my man Johann Sebastian. And then the second one is my dad used to always say, everything will be okay, but you got to be okay with everything. So kind of a message to Black culture saying that will be okay.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:04:36] Hmm. I love the sort of subversive Kendrick and Johann. I feel like we need a little t shirt with like, we’re going to be okay with Kendrick Lamar and Johann Sebastian Bach together. And maybe a picture of you up there, too, like a little, you know, a musical Mount Rushmore, if we will.
BlkBok [00:04:55] I’m with that.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:04:55] Okay. Bok, are you ready to answer some of the Blackest Questions?
BlkBok [00:04:58] I am. Let’s go.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:05:00] Let’s get started. Okay. Question number. One with the exclusive mission of honoring the life, purpose and legacy of the celebrated father of Pan-Africanism by redeveloping and rebranding his final resting place in Accra, Ghana. Who is he?
BlkBok [00:05:17] That is before. I have no idea. Lost on that one.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:05:24] The answer is W.E.B. Du Bois. So with interest and dedication of the the Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois Foundation is to revive the current Du Bois Memorial Center into a museum complex and as a destination for scholars, artists and heritage tourists alike. And Foundation’s goal is to realize the WB Du Bois Museum’s full potential as an international treasure. An historic memorial honoring one of the leading and most revered Black voices in world history. Because W.E.B. Du Bois final resting place is in Ghana. And so obviously lots of Black Americans have made the pilgrimage there. Have you been to Ghana?
BlkBok [00:06:01] I’ve never been to Ghana. I’ve always wanted to go.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:06:04] Well, I think maybe we should have a field trip. Where were some of the places, some of the travels that your music has taken you that you know, have stuck with you over time?
BlkBok [00:06:13] Ironically, my travels have taken me to every continent except Africa. No, I have been everywhere except. I think there’s something special that’s brewing that is going to be something that takes me there, that’s going to be really like a special occasion. But I’ve been everywhere. I’ve been to Australia, all over Europe, South America, all over Asia. I’ve been everywhere except.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:06:38] Okay. I can’t wait for you. I want you to come back on Blackest Questions once you go to the continent and, you know, tell us the differences, how you felt about playing in east versus the west vs the north vs the south. So tell us a little bit more about when you go and you play. Can you feel a palpable difference when you’re playing in, say, Asia, maybe Japan or China or wherever, you know, tell us where you’ve been versus, you know, when you play in Atlanta or Memphis or Detroit or New York City.
BlkBok [00:07:05] Yeah, very a huge difference. I mean, especially in places like you say, like like Japan or China, where the culture is just a little bit different and how you receive music is different. You know, there’s a very much a, you know, wait until the end and then clap. And it’s very formal as opposed to, you know, us in America. We kind of like, you know, if we feel it, we scream it, you know, we clap, we applause, we, you know. And to me, I think both of them have a very interesting place in just how music is received. But there are differences in every continent, every city that you go to. There’s a difference between Atlanta and, say, Detroit.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:07:47] Mm hmm.
BlkBok [00:07:48] You know, like my Detroit folks. We do? Yeah, we just. We just let it out, you know, as opposed to, you know, other places where it’s a little bit more conservative. People wait for the pieces to end and they, you know, scream and shout during the piece.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:08:03] Now, which do you prefer? Do you feed off the energy? You know, when people are like, “Go on! Do it!”
BlkBok [00:08:08] Both. Actually, both. You know, they both have they have their significance. Yeah.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:08:13] Okay. And then what’s your what’s been one of your favorite pieces to play? Is it your original stuff or is it other works by great composers?
BlkBok [00:08:22] Oh, definitely originals.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:08:24] Oh, really?
BlkBok [00:08:24] Originals? Yeah. I love playing my own music. It’s it’s to me, it’s like getting on stage and opening up my chest and letting everyone see what’s inside. The vulnerability, the love, the passion, the heartbreak, the anger, all of the emotions, all the feels like people get to see that.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:08:40] Oh, yeah. Okay. Do you need just a T-shirt line? So all the feels like, come to this concert you’re getting all the feels.
BlkBok [00:08:47] You get all the feels.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:08:47] So if you could talk to, say, aspiring young pianists, you know, because you got your youth, what age was your first kind of big concert?
BlkBok [00:08:57] Oh four at age four, my first recital. Wow. So I would say to young, young students, just don’t quit. Don’t quit. Like whatever you do, you will have moments where you want to. And I would also say to the parents and to the people that are the guardians and watching over these kids, don’t let them quit. My mom had a rule up until 18. I could play after 18. She said, you’re an adult. You can do it. You want to do.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:09:24] Interesting, because I mean, I will say, you know, I’m not trying to diss my parents at all. They were fantastic. But when I was done with the piano, I think they were like, woof. All right, well, don’t despair. Like they’re good right now. You know, our family, one side is a little more musical than the others, but I definitely did not have the piano gene. I will say this, though, to make you proud. When I finished graduate school and defended my dissertation, I went out and bought a trumpet that day and I took trumpet lessons for like two or three years. But living in New York City was a little difficult. I practice in my car, and so that’s actually not the best practice, you know for.
BlkBok [00:10:07] Not the best environment.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:10:07] No, it is not. So my musical ability sort of ends with watching your clips on YouTube and enjoying the music.
BlkBok [00:10:15] Not bad.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:10:17] All right. Well, let’s take a quick commercial break and we will come back with BLKBOK answering more of the Blackest Questions.
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[00:10:55] Okay. We are back with BLKBOK. And are you ready for question number two Bok?
BlkBok [00:11:00] I don’t know. Question one got me.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:11:05] And listen, as I always tell our listeners, this podcast is just for us to have fun and learn a little something. And hopefully our listeners, you know, will will not know the answers. But, you know, my argument box is Black history is American history. And all of us should know these answers no matter where we come from, what our race or ethnic background is. And so hopefully our listeners are learning something along the way, not just about you, but about our rich and beautiful history that is all of the Black diaspora. Okay. Question number two. Into this legendary dance duo watched their mother play piano at the Old Standard Theater in Philadelphia while their father played drums. Who are they?
BlkBok [00:11:49] Oh, my gosh. I could see them. They’re two guys. Gosh, they’re two guys. I can’t. They’re brothers. Oh, my gosh. I can see them dancing, but I can’t call their name. Oh, give me a hint.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:12:08] The last name might remind you of Christmas.
BlkBok [00:12:14] Yeah.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:12:16] It’s the Nicholas Brothers.
BlkBok [00:12:17] Nicholas brothers. Yeah.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:12:19] Listen, and I have real sympathy because my my podcast sibling, Panama Jackson had me on his Grio podcast, Dear Culture, and I was 0 for two. And the thing is, I knew these answers. It’s just when they’re asked in a time to setting. Things change.
BlkBok [00:12:36] Exactly.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:12:36] But the Nicholas brothers, two of the greatest tap dancers that ever lived, certainly the most loved dance team in the history of entertainment are Fayad and Harold. The famous Nicholas Brothers. And at the age of three, there was always sit in the front row while his parents worked. And by the time he was ten, he had seen most of the great Black vaudeville acts, particularly the dancers. And so the Nicholas brothers were contracted to the 20th Century-Fox studio in 1940, and they made six films there. And in all, they’ve made over 30 films, of which they themselves consider Stormy Weather, which is from 1943, their personal favorite. That’s the one that both of us have seen where it features their now classic, breathtaking staircase routine and their last appearance on film as a routine. And so their last appearance on film as a team was one of the highlights of MGM’s 1985 compilation That’s Dancing. So you come from a family of musicians. Grandfather has a star on the Walk of Fame in Memphis, I’m told. He’s got a famous saxophone playing uncle. He’s got tap dancers you mentioned in your family. So what was that like growing up around so many artistic individuals, especially artistic men who served as mentors?
BlkBok [00:13:57] It was it was amazing because it was like, it left the blueprint for me. It left the possibility, you know, the possibility of being an entertainer, successful entertainer. There’s this wonderful movie called Tab with Gregory Hines and Sammy Davis, Jr. And my uncle just happened to be in that movie Dancing with Gregory Hines and it just made me always think that there were possibilities to do entertainment in a way that these people, my uncles and grandfather, were opening doors for me. And I try to carry that same energy in opening doors for younger musicians and younger artists to give them a possibility to know that, you know, if you want to do art for a living, it’s possible.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:14:44] Yeah. And I think that, you know, there’s so many families who actually are supportive. I mean, I think we definitely hear the stories of folks who are just like my parents. You know, we’re not supportive of this lifestyle at all. And I just had to go it alone. But I feel like I’m hearing more and more stories, especially of Black artists who were just like, Oh, no, my parents told me it was going to be difficult, but it was also possible. And they they poured into me this love and support, you know. Measuring Gregory Hines. I just feel we lost him so young. And I don’t feel like we’ve ever given him his proper just do. I know he’s got a postage stamp? But I still feel like growing up I remember Gregory Hines, you know, obviously I saw the Nicholas brothers in that famous routine and stormy weather. But someone who was more tangible and inside of our era, it felt, was Gregory Hines. And so to not have him around, I feel like we need to talk about him a lot more.
BlkBok [00:15:37] Yeah, I agree. I think he was a groundbreaker, especially breaking into breaking tap dancers into film. Like he carried on that tradition from the Nicholas brothers itself.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:15:48] Yeah, right. And then we’ve got Savion Glover, bring the noise, bring the funk, which is a direct lineage of Gregory Hines. And so I just feel like, you know what, I’m going to make a mental note to to do a little more research and honor Gregory Hines properly. Now, in addition to playing piano. Have you dabbled in other instruments or did you ever dabble in tap?
BlkBok [00:16:07] Actually, I did dabble in tap when I was a little kid. That’s a tap for about two years when I was a kid. Definitely helped with learning rhythm and understanding rhythm. So I also am a drummer. I played on the drum line in middle school and high school. So yeah, other instruments. And now it’s like, you know, accordion and melodica and all these kind of weird things. Like I just decided to make a left turn and start getting into wacky world or what most people would consider a wacky world.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:16:39] Right. But, I mean, you know, the fact that we could be listening to a future Black Bach album with you playing accordion and a little polka beat in the background, it’s like, you know what? All systems go, I’m into it.
BlkBok [00:16:52] All good.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:16:53] When you when you mentioned tap, I was just thinking, yeah I do to tap for, like, kind of like, like kickball change. You know, the thing is and I mean, I, you know, I have a have a diverse set of interests. I dabble in a lot of things. But I will say my parents let me quit a lot of things. So I was like, Oh, I like dance today, that’s tomorrow. So here we are. And now I wish it’s like, Oh, you know, I could have been the next Gregory Hines. Hardly. But I do wish that I had stuck with certain things because my especially my piano knowledge is a touch limited. And you see pianos all the time. And I love when, you know, my cousins who are very musically inclined, can just sit down and just play and, as you said, express themselves some days when words just can’t.
BlkBok [00:17:40] Yeah, absolutely.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:17:42] So it is such a wonderful thing. We’re so thankful that you actually share your music and your talent with this. Okay. So we’re going to take a quick break here with BLKBOK. And you’re listening to the Blackest Questions. Okay, we are back. I’m here with BLKBOK, the famed musician, and we are playing the blank as questions. Are you ready for question number three?
BlkBok [00:18:03] Absolutely, yes.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:18:04] Okay. Inspired by the Tuskegee Airmen, painted fiberglass structure stands 16 feet tall in the Battery Park section of Manhattan painted by this artist.
BlkBok [00:18:21] Got me on that one, too.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:18:23] Okay. This artist is Hebru Brantley. So this monumental sculpture features artist Hebru Brantley. Signature character, Flyboy. Titled The Great Debate and will be featured between November 14, 2021 and November 13th, 2022. Within the canon of comics, very few characters of color exist and Flyboy was created by Brantley as an exploration into what a superhero character of color would look like. And Flyboy was inspired by the Tuskegee Airmen with the first African-American military aviator pilots who fought in World War Two, and they carried out all successful missions and had the lowest loss records of all fighter groups. And this was at a time when Black folks were treated far less an equal. And the just the Tuskegee Airmen successes meant that much more. And so Flyboy is a nod of admiration and respect to these men and an inspiration to future generations aspiring to soar far above their predicted possibilities. So I’ve been told that you’re a big aviation fan. And in fact, I hear that your favorite hobby is building model airplanes and that you and your dad built them together growing up. And you continue to do so. So please tell us more about this model airplane talent and hobby that you and your dad have.
BlkBok [00:19:36] Yeah. So, you know, just as a way to connect as, you know, father to son back in the day, he would just get model airplanes and we would get glue and just sit there for hours and work on a plane actually would end up being days. It would be a certain amount of hours over a certain amount of days. But as well, my dad used to take me to air shows. So that’s kind of where the interest in aviation became began as well as if I was not playing piano and a lot of people don’t know this, I would probably be flying airplanes.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:20:11] Now would you be flying airplanes like through the military? Or would you be flying commercial airplanes, you know, working for a commercial airline, or would you be like a private pilot? Like, walk us through this.
BlkBok [00:20:24] So I was totally going to go into the Air Force. That was the plan out of second year of college to go into Air Force. So I had kind of the the split decision, you know, fly planes or do music. And as you can see,.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:20:39] As one does.
BlkBok [00:20:41] You know, and it’s been still a hobby and an interest of mine. I’m sure at some point I will go to school and get my wings and learn to fly because I just I love it. I think there’s so much freedom in the air.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:20:57] So that seems to be a theme with you and your music to this idea of freedom. And as a birder, I’m I’m thoroughly interested in this idea of just being able to be free, right? Literally with like the wind in our in our face, the wind at our back. And just this idea of, like, not having to be bogged down with anything. And so I think that this idea of aviation and music for you actually doesn’t seem that at odds in your philosophy. Now, have you ever flown a plane?
BlkBok [00:21:32] No, I have not.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:21:33] Okay. So we’re going to put this on our to do list.
BlkBok [00:21:36] Definitely on the list.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:21:37] And do you collect any of the model airplanes or what do you and your dad do once you’ve put these planes together?
BlkBok [00:21:43] As a kid, it was kind of crazy because I would actually just pretend I was, you know, in my room with the plane just flying around and usually they fall break, something like that, you know. But now I just, you know, it’s about the journey, about, you know, putting it together. And then once it’s done, it’s kind of like it goes in a drawer and then I start a new one. So I much, very much so enjoy, just like I said, the journey of putting it together. And now I’ve become, you know, the older I get, the more I become like very intricate and very curious about actually how the colors and paint and now all these other things have come into it when before I was just slapping glue on plastic.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:22:25] Is that similar to your process of writing music? So is an intricate, tedious process or do you just kind of go wide and then whittle it down? Or is it a very precise series of movements?
BlkBok [00:22:40] It’s a little bit of both. At first, it’s very wide, and as a piece comes to a close, it becomes very narrow. The process is, you know, play into it at the beginning. It’s play until you fail. And then at the end, it’s it’s okay. What are you what am I really saying with this? How do I make this statement as clear as possible? You know, most of what I do is how do you chop off this stuff that’s not needed? How do we chop off the fat? And that’s kind of what has guided my process to this point is, you know, start wide, go narrow.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:23:17] It reminds me of the. Michelangelo’s David. You know, when you go and see David in Florence, you have to pass through all of the stone that he he started working on before he was able to find David in this perfect piece of marble. So it’s all these, like, have emerged bodies, and it’s like this, isn’t it? This isn’t it. And then you finally get to that piece that is like this perfect man or this perfect song and this, you know, perfect plane. And and so having flown around, as you mentioned before and traveled, what’s on your wish list, like where would you like to fly to?
BlkBok [00:23:53] Where would I like to fly too? You know I haven’t been to Bali.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:23:57] Mhm.
BlkBok [00:23:58] And from what I understand I’ve had a bunch of friends that have went there and you know, they get there and you know six months later I’m like where you been? Like I’ve been in Bali for six months back, you know, it’s just so spiritual, it’s so amazing. I found myself, I found a new way of life, a new freedom there. So I’ve always wanted to go to Bali a bit.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:24:18] So we know that if ever BLKBOK is like off the grid, that it’s like, you know what, don’t worry. gang, I know where to find him.
BlkBok [00:24:28] Exactly?
Dr. Christina Greer [00:24:29] We’re going to take a quick commercial break and I’m coming back with BLKBOK. And we’re back. I’m playing the Blackest Questions with BLKBOK. He’s here with me, ready for question number four. Are you ready?
BlkBok [00:24:42] I don’t know. I’m zero zero for three right now.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:24:47] Hey, you know what? It’s not about the points. It’s about the feeling, right?
BlkBok [00:24:51] Exactly. And I’m learning new things, so, I mean, that’s to me, that’s the important part.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:24:55] And that’s the whole point of the Blackest Questions. And this is why we love having people. And just to play, you know, because Black history is American history and we should all know these things. Okay. So question number four, in collaboration with the Art of the Piano Festival, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music launched a competition for Black American pianists in this legendary arranger of Black classical music. Name? Who was she?
BlkBok [00:25:23] Would it be Florence Price?
Dr. Christina Greer [00:25:25] No, it’s Nina Simone.
BlkBok [00:25:28] Nina Simone.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:25:30] So Nina Simone, born Eunice Kathleen Waymon, known professionally as Nina Simone, was an American singer, songwriter, musical arranger and civil rights activist. And her music spanned a broad range of styles, including classical, jazz, folk, R&B, gospel and pop. And Nina referred to her music as Black classical music. She was one of the most extraordinary artists of the 20th century, an icon of American music. And she was the consummate musical storyteller and griot. So I’m assuming you’ve heard of Nina Simone.
BlkBok [00:26:01] Of course.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:26:03] And so, this Nina Simone piano competition, it’s the biennial competition which gives young Black American pianists ages 10 to 35, a chance to shine on a major stage in front of a distinguished audience of potential mentors, fellow musicians and concert presenters. And so I know that you started piano lessons at age four, or was it piano lessons or was it a concert?
BlkBok [00:26:24] Or piano lessons at four.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:26:26] And so talk to us a little bit more about who some of your mentors were growing up and playing piano.
BlkBok [00:26:34] Oh, growing up, I had an amazing piano instructor. His name was Thomas Schwartz.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:26:38] And he in what city was this?
BlkBok [00:26:41] This was in Detroit. So he lived right outside in the suburb called Lathrup Village. So every Saturday, my mother would drive us from the city to Lathrup Village to take lessons with Mr. Schwartz. But also, I have a uncle, a cousin who’s a classical composer. His name is Dr. William Banfield. He was also an inspiration for me as a kid growing up, being able to see someone who was in my family that was very close, who had degrees in music and was also composing for the orchestra. Again, an example of this can be done. So he was very much an influence on me. There was also some of the Motown musicians in Detroit by name Dr. Teddy Harris, Marcus Belgrave, Thomas Beans, Bolles, Charles Boles. All of these amazing men who were involved in the Motown sound were also prolific pianists and musicians who were my mentors, who would call me on a Wednesday and a boy, you coming down to the club like I’ll be there tonight, you know, to sit in. And I think that’s a very much what kept me away from trouble a lot of times were that these very inspirational, older gentlemen would call me to to make sure that I was doing music instead of craziness.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:28:12] Mm hmm. Mm hmm. And also, I love this idea. If you could see it, you can be it. You know, and the fact that you went through all this in Detroit, you know, I’m a firm believer. I sometimes think there is something in the water, like when I think about, say, Virginia and the area where, like Missy is genuine and Pharrell, you know, so many musicians like Teddy Riley, you know, they’re from this Timberland, they’re from this particular area in Virginia. I’m like, is it is it in the soil? Is it in the environment? Because the amount of talent that comes out of the Detroit area that comes out of this particular Virginia area can’t be denied.
BlkBok [00:28:51] Yeah, it’s it’s. I think it’s it’s definitely in the water and it’s the community. The community, the way they support each other. You know, you look at Missy and Timberland, they came up under Teddy Riley and then it was like this. It’s this passing on of the torch that sort of happens. And that’s what keeps that energy alive very much. The torch was passed to me and my friends that were also musicians as we came up in Detroit. And we hope to keep that legacy alive.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:29:21] Time for a quick break. We’ll be right back. Welcome back to the Black Keys questions. What was it like as a young guy? Because, I mean, I went down a YouTube rabbit hole because I love music even though I don’t play. But I really appreciate classical music. I appreciate jazz music and, you know, all these different genres. Our listeners do know when it comes to hip hop, I am stuck between 1993 and 1998 and I’m not moving and I’m but all other types of music. I can be very diverse and very flexible, but what’s it like sitting down, as, you know, as a teen next to these guys who are prolific? I mean, these are these are men that may or may not be famous, may or may not be household names, but you’re sitting there absorbing their energy and their knowledge. What is that feeling like? You know, in academia, we don’t really have that same equivalent of that. You know, there’s exchange of ideas. Sure. But what is it like sitting sitting down at a club at the age of 16, 17 years old, absorbing all this.
BlkBok [00:30:26] It’s a feeling that it’s hard to describe. It’s. It’s. It’s like being somewhere with someone who’s not only teaching you music, but they’re teaching you life and they’re giving you their experiences and they’re passing on the torch to you about things that could have been different. So the knowledge base is like, really, really? Extreme. When you think about the things that you’re learning, like I don’t at the time I didn’t understand that these were the things that they were teaching. But as an adult now I realize, Oh, these men were telling me how to deal with my finances, how to deal with my relationships, how to deal with life, how to deal with overcoming obstacles. But in all, with an overarching, you know, they slept on. Oh, here’s a music to. Here’s music and how it should be perceived. And then hears music. And how it should be perceived on a spiritual level. So it’s just so much information that you can receive just sitting there with with an old head or something like that. And they’re really, really giving you the goods. And that was the beauty of Detroit. They always gave up the goods.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:31:38] Mm hmm. And the great thing is, one day you’re going to be an old head, you know? Like, just, you know, being able to do that same thing and pass on, like, generations of knowledge. So, okay, before we move on and have a quick commercial break, tell me, what was your first gig where you were like? I think I kind of made it a little bit like, I can do this. I am doing this.
BlkBok [00:32:02] I think the first one was I had I was filling in for one of my mentors, Teddy Harris with. He was the musical director for Martha and the Vandellas, and he couldn’t do a gig that they were going to Boston. So I was 15 at the time and he he hired me to do this one off with Martha the Vandellas in Boston. And when I tell you everything that could happen about touring happened, I mean, like some guys got in a fight and then some people were, you know, offering me drinks as a 15 year old, like it was crazy, was absolutely insane. And at the end, Martha gave me an envelope. She said, Baby, I’m so sorry you had to see all that craziness and open an envelope and had money in it. And I was sold. I was like, Oh my gosh, I get to be like this. It was like a pirate’s life for me. And that was the first time I knew that, you know, being a musician, being a touring musician was exactly what I wanted to do.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:32:57] Oh, my gosh. I love that. I love the pirates life.
BlkBok [00:33:01] Yeah.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:33:02] The life of a pirate. Oh, gosh. Okay. Well, we’re going to take a quick commercial break. I’m talking to BLKBOK and you’re listening to the Blackest Questions. Okay. We are back with the Blackest questions. I’m sitting here talking to BLKBOK. We are trying to figure out more and more Black history. And we’re at our final question. Are you ready?
BlkBok [00:33:22] Let’s do it.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:33:24] NASCAR history was made at Daytona 500 this year when how many Black team owners were in the race and who were they?
BlkBok [00:33:34] Black team owners. Oh, wow. Definitely Michael Jordan’s is a new one. Of course, his driver, Bubba Wallace, is amazing. And how many Black team owners? I would say two because Brad Daugherty as well.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:33:56] Okay. It’s actually four. And you named two of the four. So there are four Black team owners running cars in NASCAR today. It’s the most Black ownership to ever compete in the Daytona 500. So, as you said, NBA legend Michael Jordan, this is 23 excited racing. He’s in the field, as is his former North Carolina teammate and longtime NBA center Brad Daugherty. He’s got JTG Daugherty and then boxing world champion Floyd Mayweather.
[00:34:25] Mayweather, Yeah.
[00:34:26] He’s got the Money Team Racing.
BlkBok [00:34:28] Money Team. Right.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:34:28] And Black entrepreneur Jon Cohen has New York racing. They’re also participating. So Jordan and Daugherty teams had guaranteed entry into the event while Mayweather and Cohen earn their spots as open qualifiers. And so I’ve been told that you are a diehard NASCAR fan and you grew up watching these races. And you went to races when you were a kid. So. Where did you go to these races? Who took you to these races? In between playing piano and tap dancing and being with this musical family. Walk us through. Because, you know, realistically and this is the beauty of being Black, right? We have so many interests, whether it’s tennis or golf or NASCAR or, you know, I played lacrosse. I mean, we are not a monolithic group. But I am also very curious, you know, when we sort of think about NASCAR and the types of folks that go to NASCAR, I tend not to think about, you know, Black pianists from Detroit. So walk me through how one gets to be a great NASCAR fan.
BlkBok [00:35:27] Okay. Well, wonderful thing about growing up in Detroit, the Motor City, is that your grandfather works for Ford, sister works for Chrysler. This person works for GM. So there’s some competitiveness in that. And then when you take that competitiveness to the track, which is my local track is Michigan International Speedway.
Michigan International Speedway [00:35:50] Noah Gregson, AJ Allmendinger making up run one. As we’re about to get underway, racing in Michigan.
BlkBok [00:35:58] And at MIS is where my dad used to take me, like every season to watch these different manufacturers compete and enjoy watching the manufacturers compete, I would get into the drivers and into like the actual sport itself. So that’s how, you know, a kid from Detroit gets into NASCAR is, you know, Ford versus Dodge versus, well Dodge doesn’t compete anymore, but Ford versus GM versus Toyota versus, you know, manufacturers. Yeah.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:36:31] That is facinating. I had no idea. But it makes total sense, obviously, coming from Detroit and such a motor industry. Now, would you ever get behind the wheel and take a few laps around the track?
BlkBok [00:36:43] Absolutely, without a doubt.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:36:46] So, okay. So in a few years, we’re going to be listening to a BLKBOK album and you’re going to have in your liner notes like this was inspired by me flying to the continent of Africa and then zooming around a racetrack, feeling free like a bird. Yeah. Oh, wow. I genuinely had no idea. And, you know, I think part of it is unfortunate because for me, when I think of NASCAR, I do think of a certain demographic of people who haven’t necessarily been welcoming to Bubba Wallace, who haven’t necessarily been. And that, of course, this is a wide brush. Right? This is an everyone. But thinking of sort of Black people in the NASCAR world is such a small group and such a minority, I haven’t really given it a chance. But now think about the history, especially coming from, you know, folks in Detroit. I think I’ll look at it with a new set of goggles and appreciate what’s going on.
BlkBok [00:37:39] I think what I do in the classical world and what is happening in NASCAR are very similar. I mean.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:37:46] What we do.
BlkBok [00:37:47] Is there are there is an immense Black fan base in NASCAR. It’s just unheard of. It’s just that, you know, there’s a perception there’s a perception that’s been put out there that there’s a certain demographic for the sport. Same as there’s a perception there’s a very elitist demographic for classical music, when in actuality it’s not in it, it’s there, it does exist. But there are Black classical fans, same as there are Black NASCAR.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:38:17] Absolutely. Oh, my gosh. I love the bridging of the two. Now, do you ever listen when you’re driving around speeding down a Detroit freeway? Are you listening to hip hop? Are you listening to classical music?
BlkBok [00:38:31] Oh, both. Mm hmm. Sometimes it’s one, sometimes it’s the other. You know, my listening is so diverse. Like, you know, usually people, like, yesterday I was listening to William Grand Steel and working out, like, I don’t even know how this happened. Like, I’m listening to classical music and lifting weights. Like, it’s weird, but it’s one thing about classical music is that it provides the soundtrack. Mm hmm. You know, if you’re walking down the street and you’re listening to something very interesting in your ears, in your headphones, you kind of always say this. I’m making a movie right now. You see the movie? Yeah. Like, Oh, my gosh, look at this. Lady’s got to go crazy over here. I’ll listen to what soundtracks are doing, you know, so it provides this amazing way to view the world in a way that no other music genre can. But for the same token. I would totally go 80 miles in the 80, 90, 100, 100, 1000, 3000, 4000, 60, 80. Oh, no, I would prefer. I have no fear of speed. So let’s go.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:39:36] Now I do. So I would be cheering you on the sidelines as a member of theGrio family of doing great things. Time for a quick break. We’ll be right back. Welcome back to The Blackest Questions. Now, here’s a quick question, because I really enjoy classical music and I always have. I think, you know, when I joke around with other people, you know, they’re like, well, I was introduced to classical music by, you know, Bugs Bunny and various cartoons. And, you know, for some people, they were introduced to jazz with Tom and Jerry, you know, depending on how much was played in their household. For someone who’s listening to this podcast, it was like I didn’t really know much about classical music. You know, they’re they’re going to like, look you up on YouTube. But when it comes to some of the Masters, what’s an easy entree for someone to listen to who may not be accustomed to listening to classical music? But that’s kind of like the gateway music to get people hooked.
BlkBok [00:40:30] BLKBOK.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:40:33] Right answer. You get a symbolic Black fist, that is the correct answer.
BlkBok [00:40:38] I believe that, you know, this is my hope. One of my tentpoles and my purpose is to be that entrance ramp for other for new listeners. If you’ve never, you know, went down the rabbit hole of classical music, let me be the first to listen to it. You know, and maybe this is something that you’ll listen to me and you’ll be like, wow, this is really interesting. Let me go listen to Debussy. Oh, he said he’s inspired by Chopin. Let me go listen to that. Or he’s mentioned William Grant Steele. Let’s go listen to him. You know, so that’s one of my things that I think is a beautiful thing about my career right now, is that I’m able to be that introduction for many people.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:41:17] I love that. I absolutely love that. And so for our listeners, that’s B L K B O K, BLKBOK. Okay. So we’re going to take a quick commercial break. And when we come back, we’re going to have our Black bonus round, which I like to call Black Lightning. Okay. BOK, before I let you out of here, we got time for the Black bonus round and now this is whatever comes to your heart. That is the correct answer. There are there are no set answers here. So I just want you to be real. Okay. Favorite city, Detroit or Amsterdam?
BlkBok [00:41:51] Detroit.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:41:52] Okay. On the Keys, are you choosing Ray Charles or Stevie Wonder?
BlkBok [00:41:56] Stevie Wonder.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:41:58] Kendrick Lamar or Drake?
BlkBok [00:42:00] Kendrick.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:42:02] Turkey bacon, pork, bacon?
BlkBok [00:42:04] Turkey.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:42:05] French toast or pancakes?
BlkBok [00:42:07] Oh. Pancakes.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:42:09] Piano or keyboard?
BlkBok [00:42:11] Piano.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:42:13] On the Keys. Are you choosing Quincy Jones or Prince?
BlkBok [00:42:16] Quincy.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:42:19] I would agree.
BlkBok [00:42:19] Which kind of. I’m in Minneapolis, so I’m glad no one heard that.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:42:23] Right. Oh, listen, we got to get you outta there under the clock of night. Favorite type of airplane?
BlkBok [00:42:28] Commercial or military?
Dr. Christina Greer [00:42:34] Both.
BlkBok [00:42:35] Commercial would be seven. Boeing 777 military would be the F-22 Raptor.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:42:46] Okay. If you had to choose most Def or Common?
BlkBok [00:42:52] Most Def.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:42:54] Okay. And on the Keys. Last question. Nina Simone or Aretha Franklin?
BlkBok [00:43:01] Aretha.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:43:03] Me too. Oh, my gosh. BOK Thank you so much for joining us on The Blackest Questions. I feel like I learned a ton. I can’t wait to put on some of your music while I’m just writing, cleaning, thinking and being right as I walk around and look at my little birds and hang out in New York City. But I really appreciate you spending time with us today at The Blackest Questions, and I wish you all the best of luck and promise that you’ll come back, especially after you’ve gone to the continent of Africa and taken a few laps around the track.
BlkBok [00:43:35] Will do.
Dr. Christina Greer [00:43:37] All right. And I want to thank you all for listening. The show is produced by Sasha Armstrong, Akilah Sheldrick, Geoffrey Trudeau and Regina Griffin is our managing editor podcast. If you like what you heard, subscribe to the podcast so you never miss an episode and please download the app to listen and watch many more great shows.