Kyle Banks grew up in New Orleans, where he performed at NOCCA and studied at St. Augustine High School and Dillard University. He was cast in the Broadway production of The Lion King in 2003 and has since performed in New York and touring productions. He moved back to New Orleans in 2015 and takes the stage at the Saenger Theatre, where The Lion King runs Jan. 4-29. He spoke with Gambit about his musical training and the show.
[jump] Gambit: What’s your favorite part of the show?
Banks: I am in the ensemble, and I sing throughout the show. There are maybe four or five that I don’t perform in.
My favorite thing is Grasslands. It’s really breathtaking. The costumes, the spirit of the scene and what’s happening in it - it’s pretty spectacular. It’s the scene in which Mufasa explains to Simba the “Circle of Life” and being connected to the universe. All the things that make the circle of life happen.
You have been affiliated with Lion King for many years. How did you get involved?
(In graduate school) I was pursuing a career in singing. This is all I ever wanted to do. I was addressing the fundamentals of music and honing my training and really taking it seriously. I wanted to pursue opera and learn about producing those types of sounds.
After I graduated from (University of) Oklahoma, I moved to New York (in 2002) and began the auditioning process. I was cast in Lion King in 2003.
For my first run, I got a three-week contract. I remember I cried when it was over, because I was like “Oh my god, they’re not going to call me back.” But they called me back two weeks later to come in for six more months. It’s been like that ever since. Lion King is such a huge production.
I have been in and out of the Broadway production and the road productions. I have been on the road for the last two years now. It usually ends up being eight or nine months of the year. I was in the Las Vegas show for a little over a year. There are so many cast members, and it’s such a physically demanding show, sometimes injuries happen and sometimes people fill in those spaces. This is my longest run without a break.
Have you been able to do much other work while on breaks from The Lion King?
I have done some off-Broadway productions and I have sung with Timbaland and Missy Elliott.
I have a creative studio in New York that we work with creative solutions (advertising, marketing and media projects) for companies like Macy’s and Swarovski crystals. It’s one of the cool things about being creative, whether it’s singing or building things or video, you can link them and make them all work for you.
Who were your greatest influences?
I worked with (gospel singer) Raymond Myles. I performed all over the city with him. We performed with Harry Connick Jr. and Patti Labelle. He kept us pretty busy. I performed with him through high school and college.
Dr. Valerie Francis. She was an amazing influence on my life. I credit her with the longevity in my career. Her training and everything she taught me about how to use my voice has served me well.
At St. Aug, Hamp (Edwin Hampton), the band instructor - he gave me opportunity to perform with the band on several occasions. Having the power of the Marching 100 behind you is pretty amazing. The impact St. Aug had on my life is pretty phenomenal. Most of the teachers were men of color. I am grateful to St. Aug for all it instilled in me.
My aunt, she was in the very first theatrical production I saw - she was performing at St. Mark’s Community Center. She pushed me to start singing with Raymond as well. She was a huge influence on my life.
My father was a jazz singer in New York. He passed away when I was 5, which is why we moved to New Orleans. It’s been a driving force for me. Pursuing music makes me feel connected to him.
He performed in the ’60s and ’70s. He was older. He would be 90 years old if he were alive today.
You also performed in a New Orleans Opera Association of Aida. Opera is of interest to you?
I am classically trained. One thing I am looking forward to as I get older is engaging that side of it more. I am a bass. Normally the (operatic) characters I would play are the grand wizard or grand inquisitor - these older, stately gentlemen. I am finally approaching an age where that makes sense. When I was in my twenties and early thirties I got some pushback. People said it didn’t look believable. Now I am looking forward to bringing those characters to life.