Getting Personal: Nathaniel C. Banks

Getting Personal: Nathaniel C. Banks

Getting Personal is a Q&A with a local personality. Here, a chat with musician Nathaniel C. Banks, co-director of the Banks Bridgewater Lewis Fine Arts Academy - formerly called Mo' Betta Music - and director of the Urbana High School Jazz Band.

So what's new with you?

We are conducting our ninth annual Summer Jazz Camp targeting local students and featuring instruction in jazz, gospel and popular music performance.

Why did you change the name of the Mo' Betta Music program?

We still keep the name "Mo' Betta" for our performing ensemble, but Banks Bridgewater Lewis Fine Arts Academy was named in honor of my mother, Carrie Banks; Ron Bridgewater's mother, Erma Bridgewater; and Robert Lewis' wife, Rosalin Lewis. The name also reflects a larger vision to work with youth in all areas of the performing and visual arts, such as dance, theater and painting.

Why did you start it?

I became interested in starting Mo' Betta so as to give youths from the underrepresented community the same experience with music that I was able to receive as a child. There were teachers in the schools who took an interest in my development.

I was also blessed to be able to study with Cecil Bridgewater. I have always felt an obligation to help young people the way that my mentors helped me when I was in my formative years.

There are many musically talented youths in Champaign who don't always have the financial wherewithal to purchase an instrument or to receive private instruction. Neither are they exposed to teachers or mentors who will encourage them to pursue their talents and abilities. Our program is designed to address that gap.

My thought was to begin with the children in my church. It just so happened that co-director Robert Lewis had a similar vision. We decided to combine our efforts to establish the Mo' Betta program.

How many students have studied with Mo' Betta since it started and have any gone on to music careers or playing in their high school or college bands?

We have easily touched over 100 students since the program's inception in 2005. The program is still young so we are just now at the point of watching students who come in as elementary age students leave and go on to college.

Most of the students who have graduated are in college. We expect that at least one of those students will be involved in the music business. We want our students to have the skill sets to become professionals if that is their desire.

But our desire is that all of our students excel in whatever discipline that they choose. The discipline of musical instruction greatly aids in that developmental process.

Can you describe the relationship between the camp and the UI School of Music?

We have an excellent working relationship with the UI School of Music. We have been able to enlist several faculty members and graduate students to be instructors for the camp. We are also holding the camp in the School of Music Building. They also provide some logistical assistance such as a website for camp registration (

How long have you yourself played trumpet and do you still play around town?

I have been playing trumpet since the fifth grade. I began in the Champaign schools music program. I ceased playing for 10-plus years in order to rear my three sons. When they became adolescents, I began playing again and have played continuously since that time

What was a pivotal decision in your career and how did you arrive at that decision?

All of my career decisions have been made based on the needs of my family. My biggest decision was to not relocate to New York City in order to try and make it as a professional musician. I opted to concentrate on being a husband and father to my children and decided to stay in Champaign to do so.

What time do you typically get up? What do you do the first hour of the morning?

I usually get up at 5:30. During the first hour, I give God thanks for waking me up, I read the Bible and then pray and ask His blessing on the day. After that, I'm good to go

What do you consider your greatest achievement or accomplishment?

Being a caring and hopefully consistent husband to my wife and father to my children.

What do you regard as your most treasured possession?

My relationship with Jesus Christ.

What book are you reading now? What is your favorite book ever?

I am reading "The Final Babylon" by Douglas W. Krieger, Dene McGriff and S. Douglas Woodward. The Bible is my all-time favorite.

Where on Earth are you dying to go? Why?

I really don't have a burning desire to go anywhere, but I would like to visit South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria and Brazil. I believe that each of those places is in transition and can become major contributors to the well-being of the planet if they get things right.

Tell me about your favorite pet.

My wife will be surprised to hear that it was our cocker spaniel, Dewey. He was with us 13 years. He and I had a love-hate relationship. He thought that he was in charge of the house. I thought he was a spoiled brat much of the time, but I really liked his independent spirit.

What's your favorite sports team?

The L.A. Clippers. (Coach) Doc Rivers is a class act.

What would you order for your last meal?

Nothing. I think that I would be preoccupied with more weightier matters than food.

If you could be reincarnated after you die, what would you like to come back as?

I don't believe in reincarnation.

Who are your favorite musicians and why?

Because I have been around a long time, I have many favorites. But a small sample would be Prince, Stevie Wonder, Dianne Reeves, McCoy Tyner, Hugh Masekela. They are all musical geniuses and have significantly advanced the music of America.

I also love the feel that most New Orleans musicians bring because they seem closest to the original intent of music indigenous to America. I respect most New York musicians because they live in a pressure cooker and become fantastic craftsmen.

What's one of your happiest memories in your life?

Playing with my sons.

If you could host a dinner party with any three living people in the world, whom would you invite? What would be on the menu?

President Obama and Pat Robertson. They both need to have a serious talking and listening session. My first answer to what I would serve would be humble pie. But I would probably check with them to see what their favorite foods were and serve that.

Which historical figure do you admire the most and why?

Nelson Mandela. Because he was able to move his country in the direction of a free and just society without a bloody civil war which would have destroyed unimaginable numbers of people of color.

What personality trait do you most hate in other people? Most hate in yourself?

Hubris in others; procrastination in myself.

What's your best piece of advice for others?

Get to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

What was your first job and how much did you make an hour?

My first job was as a parking lot attendant. I think I made 35 cents an hour — seriously.

Do you have any regrets in your life? What are they?

No regrets. Every experience caused me to be who I am today.

How do you handle a stressful situation?

I stay "prayed up" so that I can think and respond appropriately.

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