First Sunrise: Born Near Chicago
For Guitarist Keithen Banks sometimes the sun shines. Sometimes the sun sets. Although you may prefer to live in the sunshine, what can really matter is what you choose to do in the darkness.
When the sun went down, musician Keithen realized that he had to let his little light shine.
Keithen Banks was born in Chicago Heights, one of the south suburbs of Chicago, but raised in a small town in Mississippi by his grandmother. As a kid, he spent time going back and forth between Illinois and Mississippi. Eventually, he moved to Mississippi with his grandmother because his mother was having physical complications.
“[My] grandmother was a very very religious woman… She raised me up with Jesus. From there I used to listen to her sing all the time,” the artist reminisced.
Southern Gospel Roots
He also revealed, “And I used to sing in choir as a kid. My favorite song was “This Little Light of Mine.”
The guitarist really believes that singing songs like “This Little Light of Mine” in the choir influenced his sound.
“There is something about the southern gospel sound. It’s a real influence in my guitar playing,” he explained. “The style…just the feel of the music. The southern gospel sound and soul music are really one in the same.”
Banks began teaching himself how to play the guitar around 2004 or 2005. In his opinion, it was harder to learn from someone else. His way of teaching himself was going to the subway station and playing for hours. He described the subway environment as challenging.
Lessons from the Subway
“There’s a lot of challenges: getting people to hear you, getting people’s attention because nobody is there to hear you,” the musician confessed. They’re coming to commute.”
However, Banks, who played in the subway for about six years, mentioned that the subway has benefits for artists. He said “A lot of great connections came out of being in the subway; it was a great place to practice. I always looked at it as practice.”
Nonetheless, Banks says that playing in the subway gave him insight to some of the negativity that is going on in the world. For him the hardest part was watching people get robbed. It really bothered him that there was nothing he could do when people who had just given him money would suddenly get assaulted on the train.
Despite that downside, he thought playing in the subway was a great experience.
“You take the good with the bad,” he insisted.
Take the Good with the Bad
The majority of the time people would tell Banks to keep playing because he sounded great. Yet there were times when he played with only four of six guitar strings, when he did not sing in key, and even when he noticed his guitar was not in tune, but he just said to himself, “okay, we gon’ get through this.”
When people did give him negative comments and flipped him off, he decided to “just let the water roll off [his} back” and not to take anything personal. This musician was determined to let his little light shine.
Banks major advice to other musicians playing in the subway is to “Have some goals, figure out what you want to do…The subway is not a bad place to play, but it’s like you ask yourself do I want to be down here 20 years doing this.”
He also warned, “Being down there you have to be passionate about it because if you don’t, you will quit…It’s not for [just] anybody. It takes guts, it takes charisma, courage [and] it takes a strong mindset and a will to do it… Those people are hard and honest.”
Banks, whose subway fame landed him on many local newspapers in Chicago. He was grateful for the subway practice, financial support, and great connections. However, he finally decided that he wanted a bigger stage.
However, before Banks could get to a bigger stage, the sun started to quickly set.
Banks became homeless. His mother passed away and shortly thereafter, his grandmother died. Then his best friend moved away.
In the darkness, He broke all his guitars, shaved his head bald, dated multiple women, started drinking alcohol and started smoking marijuana.
“I started to live a life contrary to who I am and what I believe in,” he shared.
Watching him suffer in the dark, an organization dedicated to helping the homeless called Inner Voice, reminded the former choir member to let his little light shine.
“They really helped me to get back on my feet again and to rediscover myself…Inner Voice was like my saving hero,” Banks remarked.
Facing Ghosts from the Past
Although he was on the path to rediscovering his light, the vocalist was still struggling in the dark. Banks started remembering the traumatizing events of his past.
The guitarist shared, “I was trying to deal with some stuff… I started experiencing, reliving thoughts, my childhood.” Continuing the sad story he said, “I was raped and molested and abused as a kid…I had never brought it out, so all that started to hit me at one time.”
Banks turning point came when he ended up in the hospital after being under the influence of too much marijuana. This event led him to finally speak up about his childhood. He then began to talk to other family members about his issues and to see a psychiatrist. This is how he realized that he had a hard time trusting authority.
The more Banks opened up about his past, the more he became aware of his light; but the more he poured himself into his music, the more his little light illuminated. Through his music, he continues to share his truth by reassuring himself and others that hard times do not last. It’s in the past.
“If it wasn’t for music, man, I don’t know where I will be,” Banks said. “That’s how serious music is for me…I’m like if I can just play my guitar and just sing, life is so much better.”
“Out of the Past”
That’s why the name of his album is “Out of the Past.”
However, Banks revealed that he still has his struggles. Somewhere on his path of self-discovery, Banks started dating a woman who eventually became his wife and the mother of his children. Unfortunately for the singer this relationship proved to be toxic for him as he became a victim of domestic violence.
“I got married. And then marriage wasn’t what I thought it would be…went through a lot of stuff in my marriage. I went through domestic violence in my marriage, and I got beat,” Banks confessed. “My wife she hit me and say mean stuff to me.”
Banks believes that his struggles and experiences can be used to stimulate people. He then acknowledges that he desires to inspire people through the narratives of his life’s journey.
“I just want to reach one person,” he said.
Recognition and the House of Blues
Currently Banks has the opportunity to reach several people. Banks is using his platform as a singer at the House of Blues to help heal people. He is also a life coach, does motivational speaking and has even made an appearance on the season one finale of “Empire.” His efforts to help others heal through music was publicly acknowledged when he was awarded “The Black Excellence Award for R&B” by the African American Arts Alliance of Chicago.
Even though Banks has experienced domestic violence, homelessness and childhood trauma, he is still determined to let his little light shine by raising his kids and helping others through his music.
Sometimes the sun shines. Sometimes the sun sets. It’s easy to get lost in the darkness. Just like musician Keithen Banks remembered his light, you can remember yours too. http://www.keithenbanks.com/