When General Synod 28 planners were asked "Who ya gonna call?" to follow Leonard Pitts' inspirational keynote speech Saturday morning in the Plenary Hall of the Tampa Convention Center, they chose a couple of bona fide barrier-busters.
Nuttin' But Stringz - a.k.a. teen brothers Damien and Tourie Escobar - took the stage and promptly smeared the myriad lines that define musical genres. Passionately blending classical violin sounds with popular, hip-hop and rock, the duo from South Jamaica, Queens, N.Y., showed why they have won two Emmys, released a platinum album and earned a third-place finish on "America’s Got Talent."
The brothers’ physical appearance onstage – animated hip-hop movements complemented by the often-intense facial expressions of classical musicians – proved as uniquely fitting a blend as their musical sound.
"Sometimes you just have to stop," said Damien, 23, after their first number, "and remind yourself where you came from."
Their roots include older brother Tourie, now 25, bringing home a violin at age 8. Damien, then 6, wanted to play it, but his mother said he was too young. By age 10, Damien was accepted as a child prodigy to the Julliard School of Music. Tourie later joined him there.
"I had no idea when I went to Julliard that only big people went there," said Damien.
Before long, the brothers were playing for pocket change on the New York City subway. Their "debut" was a cover of Usher’s monster hip-hop hit "Yeah!"
Before their set Saturday was over, the brothers had played "Broken Sorrow" – the first song they wrote – "Suka 4 Her," a rendition of Bach’s popular wedding Canon, and Vivaldi’s Concerto in A Minor.
"Vivaldi would have never played on the subway," a grinning Tourie told the audience.
The brothers’ climb was not without its challenges; both dropped out of school at one point, but returned and regained their focus. "We drew on the violin as a truly life-saving force," said Damien.
By the time they released their LP "Struggle From the Subway to the Charts" in 2006, they were confident they were on the right track to stay.
Among Nuttin' but Stringz's other high-profile guest appearances have been those on talk shows hosted by Ellen Degeneres, Craig Ferguson and Jay Leno, as well as a spot on "Good Morning, America." They have also performed at the world-famous Apollo Theater in Harlem and as featured guest artists on “Dancing With the Stars."