Friends Will Pay Tribute to Jean Banks, BMI Musical Theatre Workshop Administrator, March 8
By Kenneth Jones
Jean Banks, the senior director of jazz and musical theatre at BMI and an unseen but influential figure in the theatre world, will be remembered at a gathering of friends and colleagues 5:30 PM March 8 at the Snapple Theatre Center in midtown Manhattan.
Banks, who died Feb. 1 at the age of 77, after a battle with lung cancer, managed BMI's jazz and musical theatre department — including the influential BMI-Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop — for more than a quarter century.
The Snapple Theatre is at 210 W. 50th Street between Broadway and Eighth Ave.
BMI Workshop members recall in Banks a friendly face and a passionate follower of their developing works. If there was an industry workshop presentation, reading or full production of a show by a composer, lyricist or librettist from the workshop, Banks made an effort to be in attendance.
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 BMI Foundation's board in 2000 and served as the Secretary until her retirement in 2011.
"Her passion for both the music and the composers defined a brilliant career that spanned more than a quarter century at BMI, and supported the careers of hundreds of our most distinguished composers," according to a statement from BMI. "Theatregoers are invited to join us for this very special, joyous and uplifting event."
After working as executive secretary at Seven-Arts Productions and ABC Productions, she moved on to BMI, the songwriter performance-rights organization, which was her career home thereafter. In the 1990s, she became senior director of jazz and in the mid-'90s added the musical theatre department where she was administrative head of the Tony-Honored BMI-Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop.
The list of writers who learned their craft in the BMI Workshop (many before Banks' time) includes Maury Yeston, Alan Menken, Lynn Ahrens & Stephen Flaherty, Michael John LaChiusa, Robert Lopez, Jeff Marx, Ed Kleban, Tom Kitt, Brian Yorkey, Carol Hall and Clark Gesner.
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, Amanda Green, Brian Yorkey, Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, among others).
Banks was also an officer and director of the BMI Foundation for over a decade. She is survived by her husband, performer Morton Banks.
Frank Evans, special projects coordinator for the BMI Musical Theatre Workshop, said that 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."
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