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“Forbes”’s “30 Under 30”: Kevin Olusola ’06 Reflects on The Yorkies and Celloboxing

Kevin Olusola ’06 joined the Yorkies, Andover’s all-male a capella group, after his friend overheard his impressive beatboxing skills in the bathroom. Nine years later, Olusola’s current group, Pentatonix, won a Grammy Award for Best Arrangement, Instrumental, or A Capella, for their mashup of Daft Punk songs. More recently, Pentatonix was featured in “Forbes”’s “30 Under 30” for their success in the music industry.

After Andover, Olusola enrolled at Yale University. During his time there, Olusola garnered significant attention online after posting a video of himself celloboxing, the art of simultaneously playing the cello and beatboxing, on YouTube. He was then approached by a group of vocalists and together they entered NBC’s “The Sing-Off,” an a cappella singing competition. The quintet of vocalists—which, with Olusola, became Pentatonix—went on to win the competition in 2011, and their album “That’s Christmas to Me” went Platinum on Christmas Eve in 2014, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.

Olusola came to Andover in 2004 as a new Upper, transferring from the small town of Owensboro, KY. While he enjoyed being involved in the Music Department as a cellist and a beatboxer during his time at Andover, Olusola never considered a career in music. His mentor and role-model, William Thomas, a former Instructor in Music who retired in 2008 and passed away in 2013, encouraged him to follow his passions, whatever they may be.

“[Thomas] just loved music as much as anybody could… He [told me], ‘Kevin, you’re different and I want you to be able to pursue life with all of your heart and soul – in whatever you want,’ ” said Olusola in a phone interview with The Phillipian.

Olusola appeared on his first album, “XX/XY,” as a member of The Yorkies in 2005.

“It was really interesting to put my beats behind their vocals and it was the first time I ever really recorded in a studio somewhat professionally. I didn’t know what to expect but I just knew it was so much fun and to have the support of my Andover brothers,” said Olusola.

Getting the opportunity to meet and bond with other teenagers from all over the globe was an experience Olusola cherished from his Andover experience.
“The thing that I loved about Andover was [being] able to be in an environment where it pushed me and challenged me. I could meet very progressive thinkers and to come from a small town environment which was very nurturing to this other nurturing environment but in a very different way that happens to teach you to be very independent and to stand on your own two feet and think for yourself – that was probably the biggest thing and hardest part of it,” said Olusola.
Olusola cites the lessons he learned at Andover as the foundation for his success as a musician. Time management, a skill he learned out of necessity as a student, allowed him to thrive both inside and outside the classroom.

“[Time management] was the most important thing that I probably learned, because I think I believe that I accomplished so much throughout my college career – in terms of music – only because I learned [it] so well at Andover,” said Olusola.

Olusola also discovered his passion for languages while at Andover. The Spanish classes he took inspired him to travel to Puerto Rico for a trip abroad during the summer before his Senior year. Olusola’s fascination with languages continued to grow during his time at Yale.

In 2009, he decided to take a year off from school to study Chinese in Beijing, China. It was on this trip when his Chinese teacher suggested combining his passions for beatboxing and cello into a new music form.

“I thought that [celloboxing] was something that people really wouldn’t accept. In the classical community, people would think that I was trying to tarnish classical music, but then I started thinking that something different could be interesting and let me just try it. You can’t judge something until you try it,” said Olusola.

As an African-American male in the music industry, Olusola credited the Internet with helping him feel more comfortable performing classical music and his refusal to conform to stereotypes. In 2009, Olusola uploaded a rendition of “Julie-O,” a cello piece written by Mark Summer, which launched him into stardom in the a cappella community.

“There’s another thing that I think I see in music is that stereotypically, people should be a certain way. If you’re an African American in music, you should be doing hip-hop or R&B or soul, but the great thing again about the Internet is that if you have a clear idea of how music can be, you can let that express yourself and you can also break stereotypes,” said Olusola.

Olusola, along with his a cappella group Pentatonix, was included in the music section of “Forbes” annual “30 Under 30” list. This list features the top 30 innovators, creators and visionaries in 20 different areas. Five other Phillips Academy alumni were included on the list. The Phillipian will run a feature on each alum the following consecutive weeks.

Jan 15, 2016