Robert Bannon has done everything from performing on Saturday Night Live to hosting virtual cabaret shows during quarantine, but his debut album Unfinished Business is poised to deliver the sweetest of rewards. Coming to the attention of many with his heartfelt and stunning single ‘I Think He Knew’ (the video is a must watch), Bannon’s show at 54 Below in New York City was beyond well-received, where he showcased his vocal range and ability to deliver almost any kind of musical genre. I sat down with Robert to chat about his path to the stage, the reaction from his father to the truly relatable single, and what it was like getting to work with one of our favorite Real Housewives of New Jersey during Pride month.
Michael Cook: When did you know that music would be the passion that you would be following?
Robert Bannon: I grew up in Jersey and loved music as a kid, my parents loved music. In fifth grade, I did a school play and I was bit by the acting/singing bug. My parents took me to a mall dance studio and from there I ended up in the first Musical Theatre Class at Juilliard Prep at Lincoln Center. It was literally the entire future I saw in my head; I was going to take this as far as I could.
In ninth grade, I was diagnosed with meningitis caused by Chronic Lyme Disease. It became a debilitating illness for me and I fought it for almost four years. To say the music stopped would be an understatement. I gave up music for over fifteen years and became a school teacher. Doing this album has been my way back to it! Finally! Hence the name Unfinished Business!
MC: The video for “I Think He Knew Me” is beyond powerful. Tell me about the story behind that single and video. What has the reaction you have gotten been like?
RB: Thank you! It is to me, the heart of the whole album. The songs writers Matt Gould (Lempicka, Witness Uganda) & Griffin Matthews (The Flight Attendant, Dear White People) are the reason I sing. I saw their show in NY and their music moved me to my core. I reached out and through their kindness, they really helped and supported me with my art.
Years ago, I saw them sing “I Think He Knew” at a workshop. The song literally stopped the room, people were sobbing. I wasn’t out yet, I was just divorced and figuring out who I was. The song told the story of my parents. They were supporting, loving, but with questions. I loved the song because it’s not a coming out song. It’s a song about a boy who always knew who he was and a father who let him be him. I knew I had to sing it.
When I did come out, I sang the song in a concert and the audience was moved, I was moved, my parents were moved. My dad yelled out “I love you son.” It was a moment. When I asked Matt & Griff if I could sing the song, they graciously let me. I am so grateful.
MC: What has the reaction been that you have received to the song?
RB: The reaction has been overwhelming. I’ve received so many messages from moms, dads, sons, daughters, brothers, and sisters. I hear so many stories of parents who were accepting and showed love. I have heard from many people who have relatives who lived in a time they couldn’t come out or who lost a parent who never knew the truth of a child. It has been so moving.
While that is all the good, there has been some sad stories. I know and have had many tell me about parents and families who don’t accept their children. Whenever I sing this song, I dedicate it to them. I know that we find our own support system and family when we aren’t accepted, but that pain doesn’t go away; this ones for them! Parents please just love on your children! It’s the best gift you can give.
MC: Do you find yourself now as an unexpected advocate for the LGBTQ community?
RB: Yes and sometimes I am shocked! I was asked about Pride Capitalism the other day. I was like who cares about what I have to say (laughs)!
It is not something I take lightly. I came out later in life. I had a relatively easy time with the reaction. I given a lot of love, support, and grace. I want to speak out and tell my truth to help someone out there. It can be a song, video, or a concert that can change a life. I hope to continue through my art and music to be a voice for those who don’t have one.
It’s been an honor to sing at Pride events, speak on LGBTQIA+ podcasts and radio shows. I am honored to be a voice for this community.
MC: Saturday Night Live is a massive accomplishment; tell me about your experience?
RB: Well, firstly working on SNL has been the most amazing job ever. It’s the best part time job in the world. I was at home when I received an email about four years ago. They were looking for someone to be in a parody commercial with blonde hair and blue eyes. I thought it was spam. I was waiting for the scam of it all, but it turns out it was really SNL!
When I got in touch I sent my info and they told me they couldn’t use me because my hair was to long. I told them I would go to SuperCuts right away if I could be booked on the show. They said “Yes” and off to Supercuts I went and they shaved my head. It must have been memorable because I have appeared more than twenty times on the show. I have been everything from a soldier, a violinist, a White House reporter, to a bass player in a band. It’s been a blast.
To be a fly on the wall at Studio 8H never gets old. It is an American Institution and I’m so honored to play a mini part in its history.
MC: Tell me about your debut album Unfinished Business.
The idea for the album came after I did my last show at 54 Below in November of 2019. Jimmy Merchant, who music directs my show, said, “Hey! Let’s record a single!” Well by the time January rolled around, I figured let’s go big! Let’s do a whole album! I had no idea how we were going to get this done but I knew we were going to try! A guitarist that I new, Joe Ravo, introduced me to Lee Lessack. Lee is an incredible recording artist himself, but he also owns the record label LML Music as well! He heard some of what we were doing and he jumped on board to produce it! Lee and I also ended up hosting our own virtual show Quarantine, Cabaret, & Cocktails & The Broadway Cast Reunion Series over the pandemic. The weekend that I was to go into the studio to record, COVID struck! We didn’t know what to do. We had the band, the songs, the arrangements, etc. I decided to forge ahead and the band recorded all from home piece by piece. I recorded all the vocals at home or in one day in Los Angeles as restrictions lifted. There is not a computer or synthesizer on the album. That’s all live musicians recording virtually from home.
The album has eleven tracks. Songs you know and love from Johnny Mercer to Whitney and the original single “I Think He Knew.” I was honored that Grammy Nominee Jane Monheit and recording artist Loren Smith jumped on board to sing with me, arrangements were done by some of the best in the biz, and when I listen to it, I am super proud of what we did during the pandemic. Not only is it steaming where ever music is heard, but the physical CD is available on Amazon! It’s a musical journey so I hope you will listen to the whole thing and take the ride with me.
MC: You have performed with everyone from Patti LaBelle to Whoppi Golderberg and even sang for the Clintons! What have those experiences been like? Who could be left on your bucket list to perform for or with?
RB: When I was a child at Juilliard we were invited to sing at a Laura Nyro memorial at the Beacon Theatre. The headliner was Patti LaBelle and the host was Whoopi Goldberg! I was twelve years old and didn’t know who a Laura Nyro or a Patti LaBelle was, but I of course knew Whoopi! Everyone knows Whoopi! She was so sweet and humble. She’s a treasure.
I didn’t know who Patti was at that time, yet all I knew was when Patti got on stage to rehearse the finale with us, I was in love! No one walking this Earth is as brilliant as she is. She sings, emotes, rolls, kicks, and gives her whole being in her performance. I was lucky enough to sing with her again much later and it’s a bucket list moment crossed off for sure.
I had the privilege of singing for the Clintons at numerous NY fundraisers for various hospitals and Arts Organizations through the years. I found them to be so personable and kind. They are always so quick to say hello, shake a hand, take a picture, etc. Regardless of politics, they have served our country well for decades. It was an honor.
MC: What was it like performing for Margaret Josephs and the rest of her Real Housewives of New Jersey cast mates?
RB: Ok. confession: I have never seen an episode of any Housewives shows. None. I did meet Margaret though, Jersey finds Jersey. She is not only stunnin,g but sweet as pie. I heard from Margaret and her team after my “I Think He Knew” video came out. Margaret is such a true ally for the LGBT+ community. She doesn’t just talk about it, she’s in the front lines.
Margaret and Lexi invited me on their podcast and also to sing at the Englewood Pride Flag Raising event. I thought it was going to be just a small gathering and I would sing. Ummm nothing Marge does is small. Not only were all the Housewives there, she threw a giant party with Tina Burner performing, good food, good drinks, good people; it was a blast! We raised the flag, we sang, and then we danced the night away. Shoutout to all the NJ Housewives. They were all so sweet and supportive.
Shoutout to Marge Sr. who is my girl! She is the sweetest. I have lots of love for Marge and how much she supported me. It was a real gift!
MC: Broadway is such a passion of yours. Let’s talk it into existence; what do you think your ideal show to participate in would be?
RB: I do love Broadway. I loved musical theatre since I saw my first show in 5th grade. My parents were so sweet and supportive of my love for music and theatre. We went often to see shows. They would let me collect the posters and hang them all over the house.
Musical Theatre is hard. To sing, dance, and act at the same time is no easy feat and the people who do this work tirelessly to make it look easy. They deserve A LOT of credit. I have had so much fun doing musicals such as Rent, The Music Man, We Will Rock You, etc. I hope to do some more soon!
If I had to pick a role that I am dying to play, I would have to say Bobby in Company. That meaty part with that subtext about figuring his life out is an actors dream! I would love to tackle it and I know somewhere down the road, I will get the chance!
MC: What is next for you in the next few years? Where do you want to see your career go?
Well everyday I get to speak to someone like you, it’s surreal that this has all happened. I am currently on my way to LA for a show and then back to NY for a show at 54 Below. I want to promote and tour this album. I want to continue to do my one man show Unfinished Business around the country at Performing Art Centers and Clubs!
I am getting back to the TV mindset. It’s time to get back on that submitting, auditioning, self taping grind that I lacked doing during COVID and the recording of the album. I hope that I can continue to make art. Be it TV, Film, Theatre, live music, hosting, recording, I just want to make a living creating art with amazing artists! It has been the dream of mine my whole life.
The chance to be heard and seen is a privilege so I hope people out there continue to enjoy the music and the message! As I always say, I truly know “The Best Is Yet To Come!”
MC: What did the surreal experience of the past year teach you about yourself and your career?
RB: Wow! This year was something. May we never ever go through something like that ever again. It left us with so much fear, sickness and uncertainty. I hope the silver lining is that we spent some time to think, reflect, rest, and grow. It certainly taught me that nothing is promised.
We are all here for an unknown limited amount of time! That being said, there is something we are all afraid to do; for me it was music and acting. For you it might be a new career, hobby, a bucketlist that needs to be crossed off, etc. Tomorrow isn’t promised! So what are you waiting for! It’s time to finish that business! Let’s all get to work!
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