Watching Greg Banks is like watching a rockstar in the making or more suitably one already made (it just seems 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 do music watching second lines [Editor’s note – second line bands are traditional New Orleans brass bands]. Seeing the bands, the celebration of life and how people responded to it, sparked something in Banks. The birthplace of jazz is where Banks was raised with nine siblings and a single mom (he also has six other siblings from his dad’s side) until he turned 15 and Hurricane Katrina devastated the area. That’s when 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.
While he learned a lot from classical voice, it felt like he was not serving his purpose and doing what he wanted to do — be on stage performing. He knew there was more to his spirit and more for him to do than classical music so he moved to NYC. He’s been here for 10 years. He’s performed all around NYC and the country with his band and then COVID-19 hit.
COVID-19 taught him what he was made of. He picked up guitar (thanks to his manager Marlenê Duperley) and taught himself how to play by practicing four to five hours a day. This is not Banks’ first instrument, Banks started out playing the trumpet, though he hasn’t played it in quite a while. Prior to COVID, Banks was realizing how he needed to take control of his artistry and become more self-sufficient. This solution resulted from the frustration he would feel towards the band when some members were not fully committed and/or would miss rehearsals.
When he became confident playing the guitar during the pandemic, he started busking. He performed on his block in Brooklyn and around other blocks in NYC thus establishing a series of shows called Concert on the Block. Then he took to performing in the subway stations when the weather got colder. Banks wanted to reach the people where they were since venues were still close and knew there was a need for music and true connection was desired.
He 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 most serendipitous opportunities.” He encountered Corwise four times from the opposite side of the platform, prior to this unexpected train collaboration. This time in March, he happened to be playing “Something in The Air,” a song he has played each time he has seen Corwise. Banks heard humming and didn’t know who it was but he kept going. Then Corwise crossed over to his side and magic happened.
Banks decided to make this spontaneous collaboration into a studio recorded track. Through this process, Banks has gotten to know Corwise. He discovered that Corwise is from New York and has family here but hadn’t spoken to them in over 10 years. The virality of the video helped Corwise’s family reach him through Banks. Banks also learned some of the difficulties Corwise has been having over the years, included drug use. Corwise has made the decision to go into rehab. Some of the proceeds from the song will go to helping Corwise get back on track.
“I would have never known two and a half years ago when I decided to redirect my path and purpose that something so beautiful would happen, you know, and it just reminded me that everything we do is bigger than us. So it was about serving a greater purpose and that in real time showed itself and I’m thankful for that.” said Banks.
Banks is still in contact with Corwise but unfortunately not through phone since Corwise lost his phone. But Corwise still lives in the subway, and is still in the midst of rehab. Banks goes by the train station he knows Corwise resides in and checks up on him.
The viral video has helped create some amazing opportunities for Banks. He performed at the Cannes Film Festival, performed a two hour show in Times Square. He also recently performed in DC today at the Kennedy Center for the first inaugural Black Men Rock! celebratory concert.
Banks is thankful for the viral moment and acknowledges the role it has played. But he doesn’t discount the hard work he and his team (including his manager) has played into his success as well. He has been an independent artist ever since moving to NYC working towards his dream. He loves doing music. He loves how music can be a reflection of what people are going through. He is inspired by artists who make music with a purpose in that kind of way. Some of the artists that have influenced Banks are prominent Black artists Nina Simone, James Brown, Louis Armstrong, Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross. Being purposeful 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, right. But everybody’s purpose isn’t so magnified, like, musicians are really magnified, you know? And it’s an honor, I would say, it’s a great responsibility, [a] privilege to be blessed with something that can shape the world,” said Banks.
Banks also cites fatherhood as an influence to his music. He is a father of five sons. Being a father and a musician has also always coexisted for Banks. He’s blessed to be able to do what he loves and knows what he wants to do. He gets to spread joy and love to his sons, especially the same joy and love music has also brought him.
Fatherhood has taught him accountability. Banks wouldn’t sing and perpetuate something he wouldn’t do in front of his boys. He teaches his boys to respect themselves like he does as well as respecting others. He brings them with him when he does performances when they’re not in school and also lets them perform with him as well. Two of them so far have shown an inkling towards music and can sing really well. But whether they go that route or not, Banks is here for them discovering themselves and deciding that for themselves.
Banks would describe his music as a fusion of R&B, funk, rock and roll (which one would notice from his songs like “Get Lost” and “Love You More”). You can hear the influence of his upbringing and education from his electric sultry singing voice and falsetto; New Orleans with the soul, Delta Mississippi with the blues and NYC with the attitude of the grind. It’s one of the reasons Banks decided to move to the city to pursue music, as he knew NYC would force him to work towards his music. There isn’t the kind of immediacy, for example, in New Orleans which is the nickname the “The Big Easy” might indicate.
Someone told Banks that “every performance is your audition for the next one.” It reminds him of NYC and how every day he works for today and getting better to sharpen his skills and to be the best he can be. Leaving home for NYC was that test for Banks to see if he can do music or not. And so far he’s been doing just that in NYC ever since.
Banks has so much in store for 2022. He is coming out with a rock anthem, “My Way,” that will get people up and dancing. He teased his 3rd EP, “Restricted Area,” that will embody the vibes of Concert on the Block. Banks also models but didn’t get scouted to an agency until this year. Right now Banks is an independent artist which has its pros and cons like everything else. It has taught him and his manager how to be smart with money, how to invest and also negotiate contracts.
He hopes to continue doing music and to continue doing it on a bigger scale such as going on tour and to live off of his craft. He also wants to do non-music ventures like films, and he wants to continue to reach people and make them feel. Like the people who have written him letters thanking him for helping them push through in life and in the city. He ultimately would like to open his own label one day to help other artists.
There is wisdom in his brown eyes and kind face with his bold asymmetrical earrings when he leaves me with one last message on Zoom. It’s a reminder for everyone to know “there’s always room to defy the odds” and there is no limit on our passions. He said we may have to adjust 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’re into Lenny Kravitz, Jimi Hendrix or Prince, give Greg Banks and listen (and even if you’re not, still give Greg Banks a listen).