Grandpa Elliot: From The Streets To The Tonight Show - And Back
Grandpa Elliot had a fair level of success in recording and performing in clubs, on TV and in concerts. Yet, he chooses to be a street musician. The reasons are a sad commentary on the treatment of vulnerable artists by some of the mercenaries of the music industry.
Elliot Small was born in 1945 and raised in the projects of New Orleans. Small's childhood was difficult with one bright spot being an uncle who played harmonica with a number of popular artists. When he was very young that uncle gave him a harmonica. Small taught himself both harmonica (from listening to records) and dancing (from watching Fred Astaire movies).
With those two skills he earned change dancing on street corners, accompanying himself on harmonica. At about age 6 he was brought to New York to tap dance on Broadway. The he spent his teen years working as Soul singer and was soon recording with some success.
After some years of working mostly in New York he was soured on the music industry when he was victimized by unfair deals. The last straw came in the 1980s when he was cheated out of the rights to one of his songs by a person he thought he could trust. Elliot decided that the streets were the place to play, since the music he did there could only belong to him and the passing listeners.
Fortunately for us Playing for Change creator Mark Johnson saw Small on the streets. He decided to record Small on the streets and include him in a project meant to promote World peace and unity through music. Elliot's performance of "Stand by Me" went viral in 2009 and since then the man now known as Grandpa Elliot has appeared on The Tonight Show and in concert at Dodger Stadium. He has done more with Playing for Change and recorded an album called Sugar Sweet.
Grandpa Elliot is still leary, with good reason, and keeps his presence known on the streets. If you see a harmonica player with a delightful voice on the streets of "The Big Easy" give a listen. He's proof that not all great music comes from the industry.