Banks died at about noon today, possibly of a massive heart attack, said Billy Wilson, president of the Motown Alumni Association.
The Northern High School graduate was the founder of the Detroit vocal group, which made a name in the mid-’60s and went on to play for avid audiences around the country. Aside from a short break in the mid-1980s, the group has worked continuously since its early days playing Chene Street nightclubs, and has been a staple of the annual ’70s Soul Jam revue tours.
Banks’ last hometown gig with the Dramatics was a November show at MotorCity Casino’s Sound Board venue.
Banks, thought to be in normal health, was at home with his family when he abruptly passed out, said fellow Dramatics singer L.J. Reynolds, who had spoken with Banks by phone just minutes earlier.
“He seemed just like himself — very upbeat,” Reynolds said.
Banks’ sweet voice and smooth choreography helped distinguish the Dramatics, particularly on Detroit’s post-Motown scene of the 1970s, when the group enjoyed crossover pop success with songs such as “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get” and “In the Rain.”
“They stayed true to what they did,” said Cliff Green, 59, a Detroit fan of the group. “They didn’t try to keep up with the times, even after the rappers and techno artists came out and took music a different way. Ron Banks and the Dramatics stayed true to what they did. You could still fall in love while listening to their music. They put you in that groove.”
Tall and strapping, with a vocal delivery inspired by the Temptations’ Eddie Kendricks, Banks was well-liked among fellow musicians and industry personnel. He was a partner in Hitsville Ventures with Wilson and Detroit entrepreneur Herb Strather.
“He really was a wonderful person,” said Wilson. “You know, people who have been in the business awhile can be cocky and arrogant. But he stayed beautiful, always. Even during the tense moments in the group’s career, he just remained cool and calm.
“The Dramatics are one of the few groups that can pull a crowd of 5,000 people doing traditional R&B music. A lot of the older groups have a difficult time doing that by themselves. They have a very, very loyal following, particularly here. We’re just devastated by this news.”
Banks is survived by his wife, Sandy Banks, four daughters and two sons. He was preceded in death by Dramatics members Elbert Wilkins, William (Wee Gee) Howard and James Mack Brown.