KEVIN AT A GLANCE
Name: Kevin Olusola
Born: October 5, 1988 (age 27)
Genres: Classical, pop, rock, jazz, a cappella
Occupation: Beatboxer, multi-instrumentalist, singer
Instruments: Beatboxing, cello, saxophone, piano, vocals
Years active: 2011-present
Labels: Madison Gate Records, RCA Records
Associated acts: Pentatonix Triptyq
Languages: English (Native), Chinese (Fluent), Spanish (reading proficiency), French (beginner), Yoruba (beginner)
beat·box/ˈbētbäks/ (imitate the sounds of a drum machine with the voice)
When it comes to breaking boundaries in the world of music, Kevin “K.O.” Olusola is no stranger.
He is best known as the beat boxer of the Grammy-winning vocal quintet Pentatonix. Pentatonix’s most recent release, the platinum selling album That’s Christmas to Me, was the #1 holiday album in the country and featured the title track written wholly by the group. The six videos in support of the holiday album have been viewed more than 64 million times.
The group has eclipsed 7 million YouTube subscribers (more than both Avicii and Beyoncé), with more than 800 million cumulative views. Their music video for “Daft Punk” has been viewed more than 100 million times and the medley earned the group their first Grammy win. To date, Pentatonix has released 5 albums, each landing in the top 15 of Billboard’s Top 200 Album Chart and cumulatively selling roughly 1.7 million albums.
Kevin Olusola is an American cellist, beatboxer, songwriter, record producer, singer, and rapper. Olusola is best known as the beatboxer of the vocal band Pentatonix. After the group won NBC’s The Sing-Off in 2011, they released five albums which all charted in the top 5 of the Billboard 200 charts, have sold over 2 million records and have amassed more than one billion views on their YouTube channel. Olusola has also been identified as developing the art of “celloboxing” (playing cello and beatboxing simultaneously).
His celloboxing version of Mark Summer’s “Julie-O” went viral in April 2011, which led him to become involved with Pentatonix. Olusola has performed at classical musical festivals such as the Amsterdam Cello Biennale and the Kronberg Academy Festival, opened the TED Conference in Vancouver, and was chosen by Quincy Jones to represent him in concert at the 2012 Montreux Jazz Festival on the same program as Bobby McFerrin and Chick Corea. Olusola is fluent in Mandarin.
Olusola was born in Owensboro, Kentucky, to Nigerian-born Oluwole Olusola, a psychiatrist, and Grenadian-born Curline Paul, a nurse. At that time, his father had just come from medical school in Nigeria and an internship in Trinidad and Tobago to Loma Linda University (a Seventh-day Adventist institution), where he met his wife while she was doing her MPH. After they married, they moved to Hershey, Pennsylvania (where Kevin’s sister Candace was born) for a short period of time, and then to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for his father to finish residency at Albert Einstein Medical Center (where Kevin’s brother Kellon was born). Olusola started his education at Greater Philadelphia Junior Academy, but his family eventually moved to Owensboro, Kentucky where he was raised.
HE WAS BORN THAT WAY
Olusola’s parents discovered his musical talent when he was six months old and decided to put him in music lessons. He started the piano at age 4, the cello at age 6, and alto saxophone at age 10. He was heavily involved in music programs throughout grade school at Owensboro, Kentucky, in school and the community participating in jazz band, marching band, concert band, orchestra, and community youth orchestra. When Olusola was 12 years old, he was selected as the principal saxophonist of the United States Collegiate Wind Band and toured Europe during the summer for three weeks. He was also the principal cellist of the Kentucky State Youth Orchestra and received the highest honor at the Kentucky Governor’s School for the Arts. He soloed and performed in a piano trio at Carnegie Hall as the winner of the American Fine Arts Festival, and soloed a second time on alto saxophone for PBS’s special “From the Top at Carnegie Hall”.
LIFE AT ANDOVER
He attended the Triplett School, a Montessori-based school, for a short period of time before his parents transferred him to the Owensboro Public School system for their accelerated math program that allowed him to take precalculus starting in the 9th grade. He applied and was accepted to Phillips Academy Andover, Choate Rosemary Hall, and Deerfield Academy for boarding school for 11th grade (upper year) but decided on Andover.
Olusola says that Andover taught him work ethic, tenacity, and discipline. He went from an average student to a high honors student in his senior year. He was involved in community service (directing a music program for elementary string students) and Spanish-speaking activities, where he led the Spanish language table and went to Costa Rica for four weeks to study Spanish. Olusola chose to attend Yale University, but was also accepted at Princeton University, Stanford University, University of Pennsylvania, and Brown University.
YALE COMES KNOCKING
At Yale, Olusola planned to pursue medicine and finished all his pre-med requirements. He started as an academic music major, but decided to switch to East Asian Studies after being introduced to China through a 10-day Chinese government sponsored trip for 100 Yalies.
It was during his junior year when he started thinking about music as a career when, that previous summer in Beijing, he began working on “celloboxing”. One of his teachers at a Harvard summer intensive Chinese program suggested that he should try combining the two abilities. He won runner-up in Yo-Yo Ma’s “Celebrate and Collaborate With Yo-Yo Ma’ competition and opened for KRS-One at Southern Connecticut State University. Olusola says that, during that spring break, his pre-med mentor Brandon Ogbunugafor (who was MD/PhD at Yale at the time) helped him to make the decision to finally go into music, saying medicine would always be there.
AND HE GOES VIRAL
After Olusola’s academic stint in China, he spent the summer in Beijing working on his celloboxing version of Mark Summer’s “Julie-O” the summer of 2010 while living in a Chinese friend’s apartment in Beijing, China as a way to begin expanding his skills. He continued working on it throughout the year and decided to audition to music schools with it. He was accepted at New England Conservatory for their Third Stream Program and Berklee School of Music, but chose Berklee in the end.
During his spring semester of senior year, Olusola (along with YouTube sensation Sam Tsui) was nominated for a graduation-day prize and videotaped “Julie-O” with the help of YouTube star and Yale alum Jake Bruene. Olusola posted the video on April 14, 2011, and by the second week, the video had reached number 6 on Reddit, and had become a viral video on the Internet, garnering national and international acclaim.
PENTATONIX: GAME CHANGER
At the time the video was going viral, Olusola was contacted by Scott Hoying who was impressed by his musicality and beatboxing skills. Hoying was forming a group with Kirstie Maldonado, Mitch Grassi, and Avi Kaplan to compete in season three of NBC’s The Sing-Off and he wanted Olusola to join. The second weekend after Olusola graduated college, he met the group the day before the audition, and Pentatonix was born. After the taping of the show, Olusola did a brief stint as the cellist for Gungor on the David Crowder Band “7” Tour before returning with Pentatonix for the season finale.
The group won the Sing-Off title on Nov. 28th, 2011, which landed them a recording contract with Sony Music Entertainment and a $200K cash prize. The band immediately moved to Los Angeles to record their first album with producer Ben Bram, whom they met on the show. Their first EP, PTX, Volume 1, was released on June 26, 2012, charting at #14 in the US Billboard 200 chart and #5 on the digital chart. It sold 20,000 copies in its first week of release. They embarked on a fall 2012 and released their Christmas EP, PTXmas, on November 13, 2012.
HOW ABOUT A GRAMMY?
After their winter–spring 2013 tour, Pentatonix returned to the studio to finish their second EP, PTX, Vol. II, Olusola became more interested in songwriting and production, especially with how stomping and clapping could be used as an effective production tool for bolstering their a cappella tracks. Olusola co-wrote three of the songs on the album, Natural Disaster, Love Again, and Run to You. The album was released on November 5, 2013 and debuted at number ten on the Billboard 200 and number one on the Independent charts, selling 31,000 copies in the first week. Olusola also released a solo EP in early 2015, titled The Renegade EP.
On February 8, 2015, Pentatonix won a Grammy in the “Best Arrangement, Instrumental or a cappella” category for their song “Daft Punk”, a medley of songs by Daft Punk
Though Olusola went to Yale to study Medicine, He changed his focus to music after participating in a cello competition presented by Yo Yo Ma. “Medicine was a reliable and safe career, so it was a big leap of faith for me and my parents when I decided to pursue music,” Olusola told the Lexington Herald-Leader. “So it’s nice to have a recording contract!”
KO’s talent in music has been recognized by people like Yo-Yo Ma, KRS-One, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and he has graced the stages of Carnegie Hall, Shanghai World Expo, and also American and Chinese national television. Kevin has also performed at prestigious classical musical festivals such as the Amsterdam Cello Biennale and the Kronberg Academy Festival, opened the TED Conference in Vancouver, and was chosen by Quincy Jones himself to represent him in concert at the 2012 Montreux Jazz Festival on the same program as Bobby McFerrin and Chick Corea.
Kevin Olusola may have been born abroad but He remains a Nigerian at heart. Keep ‘repping’ bro!