Her violin at the ready, Ezinma bridges the gap between classical and contemporary music, and she has garnered widespread recognition for her efforts. Her work has been featured on TV, in Oscar-nominated films and at Tribeca Film Festival, and she's celebrating 50 years of hip hop with her snappy rendition of Lauryn Hill's "Doo Wop (That Thing)" in a new video.
Being able to play a diverse array of genres on her chosen instrument hasn't always been the case for the classically trained virtuoso. Ezinma shares where she learned she could take the violin in different directions and how she's sharing that discovery with young artists.
EBONY: What inspired you to pursue music with such fervor?
Ezinma: I first started the violin when I was 4 years old. I went to a Montessori school on a farm in Nebraska. This school just happened to have a Strings program. I remember begging my parents for a violin when I was just a little kid. My dad is originally from Georgetown, Guyana, and honestly, the way he was raised he never knew kids could play violin. My parents rented me a tiny violin. The rest is history.
Who is your celebrity inspiration?
I was super motivated by Misty Copeland, the incredible African American ballerina. I also remember at night growing up I would listen to this incredible album called Humoresque, filled with encores performed by Isaac Stern. It’s still one of my favorite albums today. He was and continues to be an incredible violinist that I look up to.
How did you connect with celebrity artists and modernize the sound of your violin for contemporary music?
Social media was a big part of connecting with artists and modernizing the sound of my violin. I am very much from the classical tradition. When I moved to New York to go to The New School, I was exposed to musical styles I’d never really played before. That introduction allowed me to branch out and helped give me the resources to experiment with my sound.
What was your first gig outside of the classical range?
It was with Stevie Wonder. It’s interesting because that happened even before I had a social media following. I was at the gym in New York City, and I got a call from a really cool contractor who I consider to be friends with today. She hit me up and said, "Can you be at Central Park in 30 minutes? I immediately rushed there. That was the first time I ever got to play alongside him. From there I continued to play in classical orchestras and in string quartets. However, I had gotten a taste of what it felt like to step outside of the classical space. That led me to play in clubs a lot and join a jazz orchestra and an EDM band. I then got into house, music, hip hop, and the list goes on...
You're now composing. What is your next big piece about and what inspired it?
It has been a busy year! I had a doc series air on HBO called Angel City. Another documentary short I worked on entitled Stranger At The Gate was nominated for an Oscar this year, and I just had two projects premiere at Tribeca Film Festival. That was incredibly exciting. Next up? I am excited to finish my album and gear up for more film and TV projects.
What do you say to people who think it's strange that a Black woman has pursued this classical instrument and any encouraging words for future Black violinists?
I think we live in a world in which there are still a lot of expectations and misconceptions about what certain people should and should not do. The good news is that I think these stereotypes are starting to shift. I am seeing the classical space become more inclusive for Black and brown people. This makes me incredibly happy. I started my nonprofit, Strings By Heart in 2020. The reason I created this organization is to address this very issue; to bring more diversity to classical spaces. Strings By Heart works to bring instruments and music instruction to children from underserved communities in New York City. Bringing diversity to classical music is something I’m very passionate about.