Quantcast
Photo credit: Nathan Johnson

Violinist Ezinma Shares How She Found Purpose In Music

Touring with Beyoncé and jamming with Stevie Wonder were just the beginning.

Exclusive Interviews

At face value, one might not think the classical composer Bach and the rapper Future could occupy the same space. However, classically trained violinist Meredith Ezinma Ramsay (also known as just Ezinma or “Classical Bae”) proved that it's a magical combination when she responded to the viral #MaskOffChallenge on Instagram in 2017 with a violin rendition of the rapper’s hit song.



“I was practicing a piece written by Bach,” the violinist tells XoNecole. “I just sort of had this idea: ‘What if I just sort of looped it?’” By looping, or continuously repeating, the classical piece with the “Mask Off” melody, Ezinma said that for the first time she created something that felt true to herself. She posted the video of her performing her classical rendition to Instagram “on a whim,” and not long after, the video took on a life of its own.

“[The video] just went viral, like crazy viral. I woke up the next day to 22,000 followers. I had two hundred the day before,” Ezinma recounts.

For the violinist, her interest in the violin began at just the age of four years old. “At the school I went to, they had a very small violin program. And just because I saw these kids with violins, I begged my parents if I could play,” she says. It took a bit of convincing for her parents to finally rent her a tiny violin, but once they gave in, Ezinma says that she was a natural at playing the instrument.

Her love for violins led Ezinma all the way to New York after she finished her undergraduate degree at the University of Nebraska where she studied both science and the violin. “[New York is] such a fertile ground as a creative person, especially as a musician, because there are so many genres everywhere,” she says. “You walk down the street, you hear jazz, or you see a hip hop club or a classical concert. So I was really in heaven.”

Not long after moving to New York, she received a phone call that changed her life while at the gym. “I was living in Harlem at the time and I get this call from this contractor in New York City. And she was like: ‘Hey, can you be at Central Park in 30 minutes? There’s a gig with Stevie Wonder. We're going to do a quick soundcheck. We need a violinist,’ for whatever reason, so-and-so fell through.” Ezinma recalls.

“There was no sheet music. There was hardly [any] rehearsal. It was just really being up there and jamming," she says. "And it was, I think for me, such a pivotal moment because it was super early on in my career. And when you show up for yourself and you see just how capable you are, it kind of empowers [you.]”

The experience of playing with the legendary musical genius who Ezinma says is her “favorite artist of all time,” reminded her of the old industry adage: “when you get the call, you better be ready.”

Another lesson Ezinma learned came after she toured with Queen Bey for years. Ezinma performed with Beyoncé and Jay-Z during the On The Run 2 tour, as well as Beyoncé’s iconic Coachella performance, Beychella, which became the Netflix documentary Homecoming. Still, Ezinma said in a 2020 interview that there was a part of her that felt unfulfilled, even after having achieved such an illustrious milestone in her career. “For me, purpose is very closely aligned with service,” she tells me after I ask her if she still feels that way now that more time has passed. “Success is great and awesome and it's wonderful, right? But, for me personally, just sort of doing things without getting to connect, especially with kids, it feels like I'm missing out on a really important part of the puzzle.”

Born in Lincoln, Nebraska, Ezinma was 13 years old and had been playing violin for nearly 10 years before she'd ever met another Black string musician. Now, she’s making it her mission to help more kids of color have access to string instruments and lessons.Recently, Ezinma founded the non-profit Strings by Heart which aims to bring classical music to underprivileged communities through education. “There's this really sobering statistic…that less than 4% of people in orchestras are Black or brown,” Ezinma says. “And when I saw that number – and also just based on my experience – it was like, gosh, how do we improve this?”

While going on a tour of schools in Harlem and the Bronx, she says that so many of the kids she met were natural when given an instrument. It’s reminiscent of her own early connection with the violin when she recalls how she doesn’t think she would’ve ever played the instrument if she had never seen those kids at her school playing the violin. “So much of what we do is because of what we're exposed to,” says Ezinma. “It's not because of a lack of talent among Black and brown people. It's really about a lack of opportunity.”

As for her own future, Ezinma hopes to broaden her musical talents onto the big screen. “I did my first project as a film composer maybe six years ago,” she tells me. “And I really, really loved it!” At the beginning of the pandemic Ezinma says that she decided to go back to school at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts to pursue a degree in film scoring. “I live and breathe music and that could either be on the violin, that can be on stage, that can be teaching, that can be film scoring. I really see it all as one.”

The emergence of a week-long tension headache told me that I needed to figure out a way to minimize and relieve my stress. In addition to daily magnesium supplements and meditation, I also found myself wanting to orgasm (the health benefits are hard to ignore) and do so at least every other day.

I was determined to set the mood and engage in some erotic self-focus by way of masturbation, and I wanted to do so with a little more variety than my wand vibrator provides. My commitment to almost daily masturbation was affirmed even further with the arrival of what would become my new favorite sex toy, the viral Lovers’ Thump & Thrust Dual Vibrator.

Keep reading...Show less
The daily empowerment fix you need.
Make things inbox official.

If there is one artist who has had a very successful and eventful year so far it’s Mary J. Blige. The “Queen of Hip-Hop Soul” shut down the 2022 Super Bowl Half-time show along with Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, and Eminem, she also performed at NBA All-Star weekend and now she is being honored as one of Time's most influential people of 2022.

Keep reading...Show less

These days it seems that we’re all trying to heal from childhood wounds, and though I’m a big advocate for cutting people off – family included – I’ve come to learn how challenging that actually is. But also, it’s not always necessary if you have a parent who is open and committed to doing the healing work along with you, a mother, for example, who is receptive to her truth. But this also means you are receptive to the reality that parents are humans who often take cake crumbs from their parents and so on. It’s not to say that you have to accept piss-poor treatment because they’re human, but if any of us are going to embark upon a healing journey, we must acknowledge even the difficult truths.

Keep reading...Show less

Queen Latifah is saying no to unhealthy and dangerous lifestyles especially when it comes to her career. Since the beginning, the rapper/actress has always been a body-positive role model thanks to the range of characters she has played over the years that shows that size doesn’t matter. In an interview with PEOPLE, The Equalizer star opened up about taking on roles that don't compromise her health.

Keep reading...Show less

When I was ten, my Sunday school teacher put on a brief performance in class that included some of the boys standing in front of the classroom while she stood in front of them holding a heart shaped box of chocolate. One by one, she tells each boy to come and bite a piece of candy and then place the remainder back into the box. After the last boy, she gave the box of now mangled chocolate over to the other Sunday school teacher — who happened to be her real husband — who made a comically puzzled face. She told us that the lesson to be gleaned from this was that if you give your heart away to too many people, once you find “the one,” that your heart would be too damaged. The lesson wasn’t explicitly about sex but the implication was clearly present.

That memory came back to me after a flier went viral last week, advertising an abstinence event titled The Close Your Legs Tour with the specific target demo of teen girls came across my Twitter timeline. The event was met with derision online. Writer, artist, and professor Ashon Crawley said: “We have to refuse shame. it is not yours to hold. legs open or not.” Writer and theologian Candice Marie Benbow said on her Twitter: “Any event where 12-17-year-old girls are being told to ‘keep their legs closed’ is a space where purity culture is being reinforced.”

“Purity culture,” as Benbow referenced, is a culture that teaches primarily girls and women that their value is to be found in their ability to stay chaste and “pure”–as in, non-sexual–for both God and their future husbands.

I grew up in an explicitly evangelical house and church, where I was taught virginity was the best gift a girl can hold on to until she got married. I fortunately never wore a purity ring or had a ceremony where I promised my father I wouldn’t have pre-marital sex. I certainly never even thought of having my hymen examined and the certificate handed over to my father on my wedding day as “proof” that I kept my promise. But the culture was always present. A few years after that chocolate-flavored indoctrination, I was introduced to the fabled car anecdote. “Boys don’t like girls who have been test-driven,” as it goes.

And I believed it for a long time. That to be loved and to be desired by men, it was only right for me to deny myself my own basic human desires, in the hopes of one day meeting a man that would fill all of my fantasies — romantically and sexually. Even if it meant denying my queerness, or even if it meant ignoring how being the only Black and fat girl in a predominantly white Christian space often had me watch all the white girls have their first boyfriends while I didn’t. Something they don’t tell you about purity culture – and that it took me years to learn and unlearn myself – is that there are bodies that are deemed inherently sinful and vulgar. That purity is about the desire to see girls and women shrink themselves, make themselves meek for men.

Purity culture isn’t unlike rape culture which tells young girls in so many ways that their worth can only be found through their bodies. Whether it be through promiscuity or chastity, young girls are instructed on what to do with their bodies before they’ve had time to figure themselves out, separate from a patriarchal lens. That their needs are secondary to that of the men and boys in their lives.

It took me a while —after leaving the church and unlearning the toxic ideals around purity culture rooted in anti-Blackness, fatphobia, heteropatriarchy, and queerphobia — to embrace my body, my sexuality, and my queerness as something that was not only not sinful or dirty, but actually in line with the vision God has over my life. Our bodies don't stop being our temples depending on who we do or who we don’t let in, and our worth isn’t dependent on the width of our legs at any given point.

Let’s make things inbox official! Sign up for the xoNecole newsletter for daily love, wellness, career, and exclusive content delivered straight to your inbox.

Featured image by Getty Images

Exclusive Interviews
Latest Posts