Welcome to 2016, where it will be most remembered as the year the architects of musical design and genius left loved ones, friends and fans memorializing their memory.
We turn on our radio to be informed, entertained, engaged and sometimes inspired. Throughout this entire process, we connect with the voice that wakes up in the morning, carries us through our daily commute and the music that contributes to the backdrop of our lives.
How ironic that Chicagoans felt a double whammy as we had to hear of the sad passing of 30-year radio veteran and broadcast legend Doug Banks on April 11, followed by the tragic news of Minneapolis favorite son Prince being found dead in his home ten days later on April 21. All we could do was ask ourselves, “WTF?” Both men’s lives ended at age 57.
There are those that would love to bring numerology and the philosophy of some kind of illuminati theory to both Banks’ and Prince’s age, but what they most had in common was that both were successful African-American men loved and admired by millions of fans and listeners.
Prince Rogers Nelson was born on June 9, 1958 just two days before Doug Banks in Minneapolis. His father, John Nelson, was a jazz singer and musician that went under the stage name of Prince Rogers and his mom Mattie Shaw often sang with the band.
As early as age seven, Prince was playing the guitar and the drums by 13, already considered a child prodigy. At 10, he was brought onstage to do a show off his dance skills during a concert with legendary Godfather of Soul James Brown.
By the time he was in high school, he had mastered playing multiple instruments and soon formed his first band, Grand Central, with classmate Andre Anderson and Morris Day. The band would be changed to Champagne and Anderson would adopt the stage name of Andre Cymone.
Doug Banks was born in Philadelphia, but was raised in Detroit. There, he began his early broadcasting path at Southfield High School radio station, taking a temporary late night on-air slot on country station WDRQ.
With his unique and high-pitched voice, he immediately connected with listeners while he was at KDAY in Los Angeles and then at KMJM-Majic 108. As a young jock, his moniker as “The Unknown DJ” was a hit in 1979.
As he moved from one station on to the next with stints at KLAV-AM in Las Vegas, KDIA in Oakland, California, Banks landed in Chicago on WBMX. He was hired by Lee Michaels, who was the program director at the time.
As Banks was adjusting back to Midwestern life, Prince was signed by Warner Bros. Records and had already released For You, followed up by Prince.
Every urban music radio station was blazing the hit song, “I Wanna Be Your Lover.” It crossed over to top 40 formats and spawned his first top 20 hit record.
A year later, Dirty Mind was released in 1980 and Controversy in 1981 – igniting a wave of sexual explosive lyrics with hit joints that included “Sexuality” and “Do Me Baby.”
Prince’s musical career continued to rise with the 1999 album giving fans party anthems – “Little Red Corvette” and “Delirious,” as well as the title hit. What would rock the music world and set an entire generation on fire would be his 1984 release, Purple Rain.
Based on a semi-biographical storyline, Prince stars in the film and composes the soundtrack of the same name. The film grossed $70 million in the U.S. and earned him an Academy Award for Best Original Song Score for the title track, “Purple Rain.”
The soundtrack would cover the Billboard charts with multiple hits, including “When Doves Cry,” “Let’s Go Crazy,” “I Would Die 4 U,” “Take Me With U,” along with the controversial cut, “Darling Nikki.” After purchasing the album for their daughter, Tipper Gore and then-Senator Al Gore pushed for stricter parental advisory warning labels on music product.
As Prince continued his music reign on the charts and on the airwaves—the on-air jock making noise at Chicago’s WBMX soon followed Program Director Lee Michaels to cross-town urban rival station WGCI in 1986.
At the time, Barbara Prieto was the Music Director at WGCI and she can recall her first time meeting Doug Banks.
“When I first met Doug at GCI, he was friendly and I got the feeling that he could fit in anywhere,” Prieto says. He was one-of-kind and they continued to stay in touch over the years. “Doug was a natural friend on and off the air. That’s what made him so special. He never had to put on a face or attitude to get your attention.”
With a show known to listeners as Banks and Company, he would reign afternoons and eventually the morning drive with some of the funniest segments that are still classic to this day.
Banks and Tom Joyner were considered the “kings of black radio” and affectionately known as the “turntable brothers.” Banks stepped into the afternoon drive when ABC Radio Network offered him a nationally syndicated show.
Lisa E. started at WGCI in 1992 and was introduced to the Banks and Company team by Harold Lee Rush. As a Columbia College student, she vowed that one day she would work at the number one radio station in Chicago.
“Doug would incorporate me into being a part of the team. Working with him was magical – you knew you were going to laugh. He always thanked you and showed his appreciation. I couldn’t wait to come into to work with him because I knew something silly would happen,” says Lisa E.
Not one to hold back on having fun, traveling and indulging in one of his favorite past times – eating – Lisa said Banks would often send her downstairs to the convenience store three or four times for large lemonade fountain drinks.
Diagnosed with diabetes, Banks was very open with his listeners on the changes that he had to do in order to keep the disease under control.
His closest colleagues – from Jerry “the Curl Man,” Bonnie DeShong, JJ Jackson (deceased), Shirley Clark (Strawberry) that made up the original Banks and Company – was the blueprint that he carried into his syndicated show with sidekick, DeDe McGuire.
He reached millions of listeners around the country for almost 10 years as well as through his weekly appearances on the ABC-7 produced lifestyle program—190 North.
Prince and Chicago
Some of Prince’s earlier concerts in Chicago were promoted by Jam Productions – at the time considered the number one concert production company in the Midwest.
But, if you were part of the “in” crowd and lucky enough to score a ticket to the after-party, most likely you were jamming to Prince at the Metro until the wee early morning hours.
There is no doubt that Prince was influenced by the people, the music, the nightlife and the cultural pride that rang out from the Black community in Chicago. His admiration for great vocalists included Chicago natives Chaka Khan, who covered Prince’s 1979 song “I Feel for You” and soul/gospel legend Mavis Staples, whom he later signed.
In the HBO documentary, Mavis!, she says Prince called in 1986 when the Staples Singers were having a slow period due to the disco era. “Pops called and said, ‘Mavis, this guy Prince is looking for you.’ I said, ‘Daddy, what prince?’ He said the man called looking for you. I said, ‘I don’t know no prince!’ He said, ‘Girl, the one they call ‘Purple’!”
They both collaborated on her album, Time Waits for No One on Paisley Park Records/Warner Bros. Records. “Can you imagine, putting on the headphones and hearing Prince’s music in the headphones? Amazing. Just crazy. Oh, that music sounds so good.”
In the mid-1980s, Barbara Prieto met Billy Sparks at WGCI before she was promoted to music director. Sparks was a part of Prince’s management team and was a regular visitor at WGCI – if you wanted Prince’s ear – he was the pipeline.
Barbara recalls, “I was not in management when we first met, but I do remember that Billy was a good person to represent Prince. They were willing to work with us because WGCI was very competitive at the time. So in a way, we needed each other.”
Often Sparks would bring tape recordings of the Banks and Company show back to Paisley Park for Prince to listen to and enjoy.
Research began to become another tool for stations to gauge a song’s popularity at the time. Prince was strong among males and females 18-34 as well as 25-54, says Prieto.
She says, “Typically new songs increase in popularity among listeners, but Prince had a sound. As soon as a listener recognized his songs, it tested high and resonated – standing the test of time – unlike many R&B hits today.”
Although his music was the platform and blueprint of innovation that had no boundaries – often blending soul, metal, rock, blues, jazz and gospel genres – Prince understood the disparities and racial discrimination towards African Americans.
After releasing several albums including Around the World in a Day, Parade, Sign ‘O’ the Times, Diamonds, Love Sexy, the Batman soundtrack and Love Symbol with the New Power Generation, his ongoing battle with Warner Bros. Records in 1993 brought feelings of having limited creative control.
So Prince changed his name to the glyph, which includes the combination of the female and male astrological symbols. To lessen the confusion, he was often introduced as “the artist formerly known as Prince” to pull himself away from the record company.
After finishing out his obligations for the label, he released his first album under his NPG label Emancipation in 1996.
His new freedom from having a major label shadowing his every move was like an albatross being removed and he released several other albums, including Crystal Ball, Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic, Musicology, Planet Earth, LotusFlow3r and 20Ten.
Although, Doug Bank’s popularity wasn’t on a massive global scale like Prince’s, but both men’s rise to success reflected their acute passion at a young age. Prince created music and Banks’ packaged the music in a beautiful way that made his loyal listeners enjoy what was programmed during his show.
At one point, Banks suspended for a couple of days when he played “Erotic City”—twice in the morning shift which riled up the Program Director because of the risqué lyrics. Both men were fans of each other with Prince extending Banks an invitation to be on the road during one of his earlier tours for an exclusive interview.
In the last five years, the seven-time Grammy award-winning recording artist received several accolades, including being inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012 and the Grammy Recording Hall of Fame.
A practicing Jehovah Witness, his music became more defined in his spiritual foundation and less in the sexual lyrics that were taboo earlier in his career.
Prince was known for surrounding himself with beautiful and talented women who often becoming his musical protégé and/or romantic interests.
Like Banks, Prince often gave people an opportunity to excel. He put women in front to shine – breaking stereotype barriers – from forming the first sexy girl group, Vanity 6 to curating recording artists Apollonia, Sheila E., Wendy & Lisa, and later forming his backup band 3RDEYEGIRL.
When Banks was out, his replacement was often Babes and Company, which included on-air personalities Bonnie DeShong, Sybil Wilkes and AJ Parker. He welcomed people and often gave others a platform to broadcast their talent.
Bank’s syndicated show ended with ABC Radio Network and he re-launched in 2008 under The Ride with Doug and DeDe – eventually joining the American Urban Radio Network family under yet another title, The Doug Banks Show, in 2010.
A four-time Chicago Emmy award recipient, Banks continued to co-host 190 North for 10 years with ABC7 television journalist Janet Davis. Over his 30-plus years in the broadcast profession, he won numerous awards. His philanthropic work included the Doug Banks Literacy & Scholarship Initiative to raise awareness of literacy across the country.
Doug Banks’ last public appearance was at the Black Woman’s Expo two days before he died and the challenges of diabetes had taken its toll. Fans and long-time colleagues like Bonnie DeShong and Ramonski Luv gathered around the 57-year old Banks like it was yesterday, sharing old stories and embracing him with love.
When Bonnie first saw him she knew wasn’t well. She said, “I asked him if he was okay and he told me yes but he was tired. He explained that he had dialysis that morning and then caught a flight to Chicago and headed straight to the Expo so he was very tired and was going to fly back the next day and rest up. We talked, laughed, and said we loved each other.” She said they had plans to talk the following week and took a photo together.
Banks leaves behind his wife Wendy, three daughters, a son and two grandchildren.
As television networks gather colleagues and industry friends that have worked with Prince, there is a deeper void felt within our community. Prince is added to the passing of singer and musical royalty Natalie Cole, who died on New Year’s Eve 2015, the death of 1980’s icon Denise Matthews (Vanity), and rock and pop icon David Bowie, whose music graced dancefloors around the world.
The loss reminds us of a time when the purity of the music brought all types of people from every walk of life together. In 2012, Prince’s most memorable “Welcome 2 Chicago” concert series partnered with Rebuild the Dream, an economic advocacy program that provides education and lobbying support on behalf of low-income and struggling middle-class Americans.
Radio personality and friend, Ramonski Luv worked with Banks and the two became fast friends when he arrived in Chicago. “Doug was a people person. It wasn’t about the music—it was about his audience. He did not exclude his audience. The music was just the cherry on the top,” he said.
The humanitarian causes that Prince took on were endless and quiet. As one insider said, “There wasn’t a friend he didn’t help and many organizations are still standing because of Prince’s generosity.”
At the age 57— both Doug Banks and Prince touched the hearts and souls of Chicagoans and changed how we listened to music and the radio airwaves today.