Busker turded star combines classical music with R&B-influenced vocals
Kim Taylor Bennett
Marques Toliver was plucked from the streets of Brooklyn by TV On The Radio’s Kyp Malone after he caught the Florida-born 24-year-old busking, playing violin and singing – combining elegant classical musicianship with a warm, R&B-influenced vocal. Here’s what you need to know about him.
He was pretty popular in his hometown of Daytona, Florida. By the age of 10, I was known in the area as the singing golden boy. I sang at funerals and weddings – anything morbid or celebratory – because my parents were involved in the church and everyone knew everyone.
Having picked up the violin, he was dedicated to the cause. I went to out-of-zone schools because they were the only ones with a string programme. I had to wake up super, super early to get there. I was in orchestra and had private lessons –and, on top of that, was making my own band.
He’s toured with Wild Beasts and James Blake, is pals with Florence Welch and was bigged up by Adele. And, oddly enough, model Daisy Lowe paid for his flight to the UK. ‘I paid Daisy back before I’d even left. In the three days leading up to the flight, I was in the subway making the last bit of money to pay her back.’
At 20, he moved to New York on a whim, started busking and fell in love with the place. Being able to feed myself and pay for things just by playing outside, I was like, ‘Wow – this is what I need to be doing!’ I was so inspired to be in NY, I started writing songs and it kicked off from there. Meeting Kyp and all these musicians that I read about in magazines on the plane to New York –then getting there and those people are standing in front watching you play –it’s like, ‘Holy s***!’
Busking can be pretty lucrative. In Florida, when I was starting out, a woman gave me a $50 bill. In New York, I once made $400 in a day. I was outside playing for about six hours, then went and bought a pair of $400 boots. It was October and it was getting cold. I think I lost them.
He has surprising influences. Frederick Douglass was an American abolitionist in the 1800s who escaped slavery, moved to Europe and started speaking on Black rights. I wrote a song based on his autobiography and I’m going to try to put it on the album.
Expect dramatic stage attire from Toliver in the future. When you have friends in the fashion industry, some of it rubs off on you. So I’m hoping to incorporate high fashion into the music and into the oufits I’m going to wear at the VMAs and all that jazz!
He’s stoked about the future. I’m excited about touring and meeting musicians in my age bracket like Lykke Li and Fleet Foxes, and maybe collaborating with them in the future. I’m sure the Beyoncés and Erykah Badus and Jay-Zs will happen in their own time. They’ll probably come to me so I can help them work on an album! Ha ha!
And his biggest plan is… ‘For me, it’s getting string instruments in the public eye – as opposed to a Celine Dion concert being the only time people hear violins or see a harp. I would like to have some sort of crossover success in terms of string instruments being in pop music.’