Donald Antonio Banks, a gospel and R&B disc jockey best known by his radio name “Don Juan,” died on Wednesday, July 31, 2019. He was 62.
Banks was an icon of the airwaves in Philadelphia for decades on WUSL-Power 99FM, where he was an on-air personality and production director until 2009.
Banks was a “quiet spirit” who was generous and mentored interns and new talent at the station, said Loraine Ballard Morrill, the director of news and community affairs for iHeart Media Philadelphia, which owns POWER 99FM.
“He truly really exemplified the best in broadcasting in terms of his professionalism and his generosity and his support of young artists and people who were just coming up in the field of gospel music,” said Morrill, who worked with Banks since she started at the station in the early 1980s.
Born in Philadelphia to McDonald and Azelle Banks on Aug. 4, 1956, Donald Banks was the oldest of four children. In 1968, he and his family moved to Willingboro, New Jersey, where they became members of the Delaware Valley Baptist Church.
Banks graduated from Burlington County Vocational Technical High School in 1974 and went on to receive an associate’s degree in broadcasting and communications.
Banks was already working at US1 Radio as an on-air personality playing country music before it switched to become the hip hop station POWER 99-FM in 1982.
Dave Allan, former program director and general manager at POWER 99 FM, said Banks never turned down a request to fill in for someone and he became synonymous with the station.
“He was always the go-to guy, the vacation guy and, clearly, one of the most popular disc jockeys that was ever on the radio station,” Allan said. “He was on seemingly all the time.”
Banks later launched his Sunday Morning Inspirations program in 1997, originally known as Sunday Morning Slow Jams.
At that time, few hip hop stations in the country had gospel music programs, but the show’s ratings were soon “off the charts,” said Colby “Colb” Tyner, a former host at POWER 99-FM and a colleague of Banks’ for 16 years.
“We had never seen ratings like that for a show and that’s when he really carved out an identity for himself by being sort of like the inspiration guy at the station,” said Tyner, the vice president of programming at Radio One.
The popularity of the show was not lost on celebrities whose music he played. One year, Philadelphia native and R&B legend Patti LaBelle called in to his show to sing “Happy Birthday” to him on the air.
Banks also was a mentor to Tyner when Tyner began at the station as an intern. Tyner remembered Banks as friendly, loyal and having good energy.
“They don’t make them like that no more,” he said. “I haven’t run into anybody else like Don Juan in my life.”
Banks met his wife, Linda, in 2000 while hosting an event on a gospel cruise. They married in 2002 and later moved to Mount Laurel, New Jersey. They had a daughter, Jasmine.
The origin of the “Don Juan” name came from one of Banks’ colleagues, Linda Banks said. Although she couldn’t recall exactly when, Linda Banks said the co-worker was joking around with Banks one day and called him “Don Juan the Music Lover.”
It stuck, she said.
“He definitely loved music,” Linda Banks said.
Banks’ death will be a loss to Black media, said Manuel McDonnell Smith, president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists.
“He’s one of the last few of a generation that was less about personality and more about the work and the effort,” he said.
Smith listened to Banks growing up and later worked with him. As a teenager, Smith was a producer on the Sunday Morning Live program at the station, which aired before Banks’ Sunday Morning Inspiration show.
“He took time to really ask how I was doing and really took time to say, ‘Hey, are you having a good day? How are things going? Keep doing a good job,’” Smith recalled. “That was a lot of encouragement and I’ll never forget that.”
Banks also gave back to the community by hosting charitable events. He received numerous awards throughout his career on the radio.
In addition to his wife and daughter, Banks is survived by: his sisters, Shellie, Tracey and Adelle; a niece, Jade; nephews, Evan and Austin; a stepmother, Henrietta; stepbrothers, David and Kyle; sisters-in-law Cindy, and Denise, and others.
Funeral arrangements have yet to be finalized.