New Orleans native Greg Banks brings soul to your sad subway ride

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Watching Greg Banks is like watching a rockstar in the making or more appropriately one already created (it just seems like the world needs to catch up). It’s in the way he dresses, the way he sings and the way he plays. He is not one to miss.

Being from New Orleans, music has been a part of him since childhood. He first knew he wanted to make music by watching the second lines [Editor’s note – second line bands are traditional New Orleans brass bands]. Seeing the bands, the celebration of life and the way people reacted to it, sparked something in Banks. The birthplace of jazz is where Banks grew up with nine siblings and a single mother (he also has six other siblings on his father’s side) until he was 15 and the Hurricane Katrina devastated the region. It was then that he moved to Natchez, Mississippi and completed high school. He moved back to New Orleans for college and went to Xavier University, where he studied classical voice and minored in sales and marketing.

Greg Banks playing with a guitar in his hand. Photo taken by Shawn Antione II. Credit: Shawn Antione II

Although he learned a lot from classical voice, he felt like he was not serving his purpose and doing what he wanted to do – be on stage. He knew there was more on his mind and more to do than classical music, so he moved to New York. He has been here for 10 years. He played all over New York and the country with his band, then hit COVID-19.

COVID-19 taught him what he was made of. He learned the guitar (through his manager Marlenê Duperley) and learned to play by practicing four to five hours a day. Not Banks’ first instrument, Banks started playing the trumpet, although he hasn’t played it for quite a while. Before COVID, Banks realized how much he needed to take control of his art and become more self-sufficient. This solution resulted from the frustration he felt towards the band when certain members were not fully engaged and/or missed rehearsals.

When he became confident playing guitar during the pandemic, he started busking. He performed in his Brooklyn neighborhood and other New York neighborhoods, establishing a series of shows called Concert on the Block. Then he started performing in subway stations when the weather got colder. Banks wanted to reach people where they were since the venues were still close and knew there was a need for the music and a real connection was desired.

It went viral when a video of him and Jayson Corwise singing together at the Metropolitan Ave Stop in Brooklyn circulated in March 2022. Banks called it “one of the more serendipitous opportunities.” He met Corwise four times on the opposite side of the platform, before this unexpected railway collaboration. This time in March, he was playing “Something in The Air”, a song he played whenever he saw Corwise. Banks heard a hum and didn’t know who it was, but he continued. Then Corwise walked by his side and the magic happened.

Banks decided to turn this spontaneous collaboration into a studio-recorded track. Through this process, Banks got to know Corwise. He found out that Corwise is from New York and has family here but hadn’t spoken to them in over 10 years. The video’s virality helped Corwise’s family reach him through Banks. Banks also learned about some of the struggles Corwise faced over the years, including drug use. Corwise made the decision to go to rehab. A portion of the proceeds from the song will go towards helping Corwise get back on track.

“I never would have known two and a half years ago when I decided to redirect my path and my focus that something so beautiful would happen, you know, and it just reminded me that everything we do is bigger than us, so it was all about serving a bigger purpose and it showed in real time and I’m grateful for that,” Banks said.

Banks is still in contact with Corwise but unfortunately not by phone since Corwise lost his phone. But Corwise still lives on the subway and is still in rehab. Banks passes by the train station he knows Corwise is residing in and is watching him.

The viral video has helped create incredible opportunities for banks. He performed at the Cannes Film Festival, presented a two-hour show in Times Square. He also recently performed in DC Today at the Kennedy Center for the first Black Men Rock! party concert.

Greg Banks doing a one-handed stand. Photo taken by Shawn Antione II. Credit: Shawn Antione II

Banks is grateful for the viral moment and acknowledges the role he played. But he doesn’t overlook the hard work that he and his team (including his manager) have also contributed to his success. He has been a freelance artist since moving to New York to fulfill his dream. He loves making music. He loves how music can reflect what people are going through. He is inspired by artists who make music with such a purpose. Some of the artists who have influenced Banks are prominent black artists Nina Simone, James Brown, Louis Armstrong, Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross. Being determined is how Banks navigates; he knows he has a position of influence with his music and wants to use it to make a difference.

“We all have a purpose, don’t we. But everybody’s purpose isn’t magnified so much, like, musicians are really magnified, you know? And it’s an honor, I would say, it’s a big responsibility, [a] privilege to be blessed with something that can shape the world,” Banks said.

Banks also cites fatherhood as an influence on his music. He is the father of five sons. Being a father and a musician has always coexisted for Banks. He is lucky to be able to do what he loves and knows what he wants to do. He manages to spread joy and love to his sons, especially the same joy and love that music has also brought to him.

Fatherhood taught him responsibility. Banks wouldn’t sing and perpetuate anything he didn’t do in front of his boys. He teaches his boys to respect themselves like him and to respect others. He brings them with him when he performs when they are not at school and also lets them play with him. So far, two of them have shown a fondness for music and can sing very well. But whether they go that route or not, Banks is there for them to discover and decide for themselves.

Banks would describe his music as a fusion of R&B, funk, rock and roll (which would be noted in his songs like “Get Lost” and “Love You More”). You can hear the influence of his upbringing and upbringing from his sultry electric and falsetto singing voice; New Orleans with soul, Delta Mississippi with blues and NYC with grind attitude. This is one of the reasons Banks decided to move to town to pursue music, as he knew NYC would force him to work for his music. There’s not the kind of immediacy, for example, in New Orleans that’s the nickname the “Big Easy” might indicate.

Someone told Banks that “every performance is your audition for the next.” It reminds him of NYC and how every day he works for today and improves to hone his skills and be the best he can be. Leaving home for New York was that test for Banks to see if he could make music or not. And so far, that’s exactly what he’s been doing since in New York.

Banks has so much in store for 2022. He’s releasing a rock anthem, “My Way,” that will have people dancing. He teased his 3rd EP, “Restricted Area,” which will embody the Concert on the Block vibes. Banks is also a model, but was only scouted by an agency this year. Right now, Banks is an independent artist that has its pros and cons like everything else. It taught him and his manager how to be smart with money, how to invest and also how to negotiate contracts.

He hopes to keep making music and keep doing it on a bigger scale, like touring and making a living from his craft. He also wants to do non-musical projects like movies, and he wants to continue to touch people and make them feel. Like the people who wrote him letters thanking him for helping them get by in life and in the city. He would eventually like to open his own label one day to help other artists.

There’s wisdom in his brown eyes and kind face with his bold asymmetrical earrings as he leaves me with one last Zoom message. It’s a reminder for everyone to know “there is always room to defy the odds” and that there is no limit to our passions. He said we may have to adapt to how we get there, but we can get there and we are destined for greatness.

So get into the groove with Greg Banks and witness his greatness. If you like Lenny Kravitz, Jimi Hendrix or Prince, give Greg Banks a listen (and even if you don’t, listen to Greg Banks anyway).

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