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Whitney Houston illusionist seeks new kidney

Photo caption: Sherie-Yvette Withers-Banks

She’s tall, graceful, a former model, and an illusionist who looks and performs so much like the late Whitney Houston that men and women rushed to the stage at Malcolm X College on Saturday, September 9, during the Black United Fund of Illinois (BUFI) “Casino Night & Concert” fundraiser, waving currency she placed discreetly in her bra. She says she is appreciative of fans’ support, but her immediate goal is to receive a new kidney.

Diagnosed with lupus in 1998, the willowy 5’9” Sherie-Yvette Withers-Banks said every time her lupus flared, she was given chemotherapy, which prevented her from ever having children. “That was devasting,” she said, having never been hospitalized before.

During another medical situation she was given an antibiotic for an infection, which included the chemical sulfur, which she was unknowingly allergic to, causing her body to shut down for three days due to renal failure. An employee of the Chicago Family Health Center, she was told to come back that Monday for a check-up.

“They told me I was in renal failure and rushed me to the emergency room where they began dialysis and chemotherapy because my entire body was shutting down.” Her kidney failed, and she was on dialysis for a month. “Within that month, with the grace of God, my kidney opened back up. So, I didn’t have to stay on dialysis. In that year, I had a fistula (a connection between an artery and a vein for dialysis access) in my arm.

“They left it in my arm for a year because they thought I would have long-term dialysis,” she said. Her kidney stayed functional for seven years; however, it began to fail, and she was told she needed a kidney transplant.

Withers-Banks was lucky. Her brother, seven years younger, donated his kidney. “I’ve had his kidney for 18 years,” she said, “but it just failed in December 2020.” She has been on the National Kidney Registry for a year-and-a-half.

But, had you attended Saturday’s BUFI fundraiser, you would never have guessed Withers-Banks is on a kidney donor list. Her high-energy performances leave you breathless.

Dressed in a black, sparking diamond-studded dress and flashing a Whitney Houston smile, Withers-Banks is a part of the Illusionists in Concert performance act that had people jumping out of their seats and dancing in the aisles, with some coming onstage to join her.

Withers-Banks has been an illusionist since 1991, and works with native Chicagoan Tim Bolhar, CEO of Lebolhs Entertainment. Bolhar performs and sounds like the late Luther Vandross; he also was given money, mostly by women waving bills as he crooned Vandross’ popular songs.

It is Bolhar who puts together the Illusionists in Concert performances, but clearly Withers-Banks stole the Saturday night show.

In an interview with the Chicago Crusader, Withers-Banks, who was born in Chicago and raised on the South Side in the London Towne development, said she began her public career as a professional model. “Of course, they took pictures of me, and one of the photographers noted how much I looked like Whitney Houston.”

Having won other beauty pageants, Withers-Banks said a couple of her friends taught her how to be an illusionist and take the Whitney Houston look to another level.

She submitted her picture to a celebrity look-a-like contest sponsored by the Maury Povich show. “I got a call from his producers who said I had won a Whitney Houston look-a-like contest.

“I didn’t expect anything like that. I ended up in Malaysia six months later because somebody saw me on his show, and they needed Whitney Houston, Dolly Parton, Elvis, and Madonna look-a-likes. I was on tour doing my act with all of those other artists for six weeks at the biggest casinos.

“I’ve been just going and going ever since,” Withers-Banks said smiling.

“Look-a-like agencies began picking me up, and it’s just growing. I make sure I bring it to another level,” she said, referring to her high-energy stage performances. She prides herself on giving her audience the Whitney Houston they remember.

Her performance at the BUFI fundraiser was a basic one because she says normally she sings a duet with a Bobby Brown illusionist. She was referring to New Edition recording artist Bobby Brown who met Houston at the Soul Train Music Awards in 1989. The 29-year-old Houston married 23-year-old Brown in 1992 and the couple made a single entitled “Something in Common.”

Withers-Banks even imitates Houston’s facial, head and body movements so realistically during her performance, it appears as if Houston is still alive. She sang with saxophonist Tameeka Caesar who lives in Harvey, Illinois.

When asked if she ever got a call from Hollywood, Withers-Banks said she did. She went for an audition for a look-a-like Houston hologram but was shocked to recognize those in the casting room.

Withers-Banks said sitting there waiting to see her perform were Houston’s nephew, Gary Houston, her brother, Michael Houston, and Pat Houston, Houston’s manager and sister-in-law.

“I almost fell out,” Withers-Banks said. “You expect your regular cast to interview you, but this was actually her family. This was the estate looking for people personally. It was me and one other girl out of 100 people in Chicago who were picked as finalists to go to Los Angeles. That was an honor,” she said.

After her presentation, Withers-Banks said Houston’s family came to her and said, “You are the epitome of Whitney.” She felt good receiving compliments from Houston’s family.

However, Withers-Banks didn’t make the cut because her body size was a little smaller than Houston’s. “They wanted a person a little heavier,” because she said it works better in making a hologram.

Withers-Banks is a 32-year-old nutritionist having earned her degree from Chicago State University in dietetics. While there, she said she was modeling and had a track scholarship. She was on the track team in high school and college. “I handled all that at the same time.”

She attended Cleo Johnson’s Modeling School, the only Black modeling agency in Chicago. She received bookings from there, went to school and worked as a nutritionist all at the same time.

Having achieved professional and entertainment success, Withers-Banks, who wears a catheter near her right shoulder, was asked her future goals. She responded, “To get a new kidney, now.”


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