Beatboxing champ inspires Perkins students

Harvard senior Devon Guinn teaches students how to express themselves through hip-hop sounds and beats

A college student in a baseball hat beatboxes into a microphone in front of two younger seated students.

Local beatboxing champion Devon Guinn hosted a 90-minute beatboxing workshop and performance for Perkins students.

October 26, 2016

It’s been years since 20-year-old Roger beatboxed at home, imitating the hip-hop artists he heard on the radio. But on Monday, he was transported back to that time when local beatboxing champion Devon Guinn came to Perkins School for the Blind.

Roger leaned forward in his chair, clapping his hands to the beat – and even snagged the microphone from Guinn for a moment to show off some of his own skills. The packed house cheered on the Secondary Program student.  

“Really, anyone who sets their mind to it can beatbox,” said Guinn, a Harvard University senior, who hosted a 90-minute beatboxing workshop and performance for Perkins students. “The number one rule is not to be embarrassed by the sounds you’re going to make.”

Beatboxing comes from hip-hop and is a form of vocal percussion that involves mimicking drums and turntables with your voice, tongue and lips.

Guinn led the group of about 50 Perkins students and staff through a series of exercises, teaching them how to create a variety of sounds. They ranged from a basic “boom-chi-boom-chi” drum beat to a dramatic “ahhhhhh” yawn-sigh combination to a metallic, reverberating “wah-wah-wah.”

Then Guinn launched into a performance that showed off his vocal gymnastics – putting the microphone up to his neck at one point to create the effect of a raucous club muffled behind closed doors. As he worked the room and pumped up the crowd, some students jumped up to dance to the ever-changing beat. 

Guinn later answered questions from Lower School, Secondary Program and Deafblind Program students, who asked about specific beatbox techniques and about his experiences beatboxing.

“(Beatboxing) has a lot of power in terms of helping people communicate and express themselves,” Guinn said.

Radio broadcasting teacher Maurice Wilkey, who organized the event, said beatboxing was a natural fit for students who are blind.

“Lots of our students are really sound-oriented – it’s a big part of their everyday lives as they navigate the world,” he said. “Devon showed the kids how to be comfortable in your own skin and be creative without using a lot of tools.”

Guinn was introduced by Rich McKeown, producer of the film “American Beatboxer.” That documentary includes a story about how staff members at New York City’s Lavelle School for the Blind in the Bronx incorporated beatboxing into speech therapy for students.