Jean Banks, Director of Musical Theatre at BMI, Dies at 77

Obituaries   Jean Banks, Director of Musical Theatre at BMI, Dies at 77
 
Jean Banks, the senior director of jazz and musical theatre at BMI and an unseen but influential figure in the theatre world, died on Feb. 2 in her Lower East Side home. The cause was lung cancer. She was 77.

Ms. Banks began her career at BMI as a temp in the mid-'70s. After being hired on a permanent basis, she rose through the ranks until achieving the title of Senior Director of Jazz, where her duties included working with and recruiting new songwriter and composer members. In the mid-’90s, she was put in charge of the musical theatre department. As such, she was the administrative head of the famed BMI-Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop, which was founded by Lehman Engel and has fostered the talents of musical composers such as Maury Yeston, Alan Menken, Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, Michael John LaChiusa, Robert Lopez, Jeff Marks, Ed Kleban, Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey.

She was known as an avid theatregoer, prone to traversing the U.S., and taking flights overseas, just to take in productions. She was elected to the Foundation's board in 2000 and served as the Secretary until her retirement in 2011.

Maury Yeston said in a statement: "Jean Banks was, for 30 years, a path-breaking woman music executive, nurturer of talent, de facto manager, adviser, loving mother and friend to countless writers who are now household names. She dispelled any bad day with a laugh, and regularly obliterated anyone’s tough moment with a smile that could light up the moon."

Frank Evans, Special Projects Coordinator for the BMI Musical Theatre Workshop, said that Ms. Banks always eschewed attention. "It was impossible to honor Jean publicly with any kind of award or ceremony. 'You can do whatever you want," she once said "but I won't show up.'"

Evans said Ms. Banks' perspective was best summed up by the phrase "Anything is possible." "I forget when and why Jean responded with that particular answer," said Evans, "but it summed up her attitude towards life. Because of her, BMI became more and more involved with not only blossoming writers, but organizations who nurtured new writers and new musicals. She stayed away from the spotlight herself but quietly arranged for theatrical miracles to happen." Ms. Banks worked closely with songwriters Skip Kennon and Richard Engquist, who for 20 years taught, fostered and nurtured some of the biggest stars in today's musical theatre (Tom Kitt, Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, among others).

Ms. Banks is survived by her husband Morty.

A viewing will be held in New York on Tuesday, Feb. 7, between 5 and 9 PM, at the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel, 1076 Madison Avenue. There will also be a memorial on March 8 at the Snapple Theatre on West 50th Street at 5:30 PM.

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