When most people encounter a homeless man or woman on the street, the reaction is to create distance. Little thought is given to them as human beings. Instead they become smells, burdens, stains, and potential threats. We sometimes forget that these people have families, stories, ideas. And talent.
The heart of this blog has always been the equal opportunity mindset. It’s not just about the major label players; it’s about the people that often get ignored—the starving artists, the undiscovered talent. The Pigeons. With that in mind, here are 10 great homeless musicians.
Hit “next,” click the pictures, or press shift+right to watch…
This is Daniel Mustard. He was discovered by Opie & Anthony and brought into the studio to perform a cover of Radiohead’s “Creep.” Referred to as “Homeless Mustard,” his looks suggest a gruff, weathered sound. Gruff and weathered may be accurate, but it’s also chill-inducing.
Probably the most notable homeless musician of all time, Nathaniel Ayers was immortalized in film The Soloist. He studied at the renowned Julliard School before suffering a mental breakdown and eventually being diagnosed with schizophrenia. He was institutionalized until he moved in with his mother. When she passed he moved to Los Angeles where he was homeless, but he continued to play music.
One of my first experiences when I moved to New York City was watching this guy as I waited for the 1-2-3 uptown. His name is Geechee Dan Brown, a 62-year-old homeless performer with a voice full of soul.
Here’s a short documentary about Geechee:
While a French man and his boyfriend were in Miami for vacation, they discovered Linda, a homeless woman who performed at the Dorchester Hotel. They were so moved that he decided to make a video to let people know about her and to ask that they take care of her if they’re ever at the Dorcester in Miami.
Wild-eyed and pounding a beat on his chest, this homeless man named Kevin and known as “Mousey” spit a freestyle for Cassidy while the rapper was in Washington, D.C. promoting his album. “The shit sound crazy,” said Cassidy.
Dred Scott is homeless and living in the streets of Denver, Colorado. He’s been playing music for over 25 years and had never had the chance to perform for a large audience. Nick Jamie wanted to change that, so he made this clip of Mr. Scott singing Prince’s “Purple Rain.”
Adele’s song “Someone Like You” is a song powerful enough to move many women and men to tears. Even without the big stage and bright lights, Damon Scott proves that it can be just as moving. Here he is singing the track in the 86th street subway stop in NYC. If you watch carefully, you can almost tell that the guy standing on the corner is fighting those waterworks.
Mark Flynn playing the classic “Ripple” by the Grateful Dead on Pearl Street in Boulder, CO. “Hit that weed and play it up,” says the videographer, and Mark does just that. He’s been playing since he was 8 or 9 years old, and gets “mad props” from whoever filmed this.
From Kaizen Tao:
Since hearing Grandpa Elliott’s voice on Mark Johson’s first “Playing for Change” CD, “Stand by Me”, I knew I HAD to meet the man behind the soul-stirring voice.
I found Grandpa in the French Quarters in New Orleans (pronounced Nawlins) listening to his daughter Doris Blackmon play the guitar he’d given her. She’s also a talented Busker performing in a duet with the violonist Tanya Huang.
When Grandpa and I met, it was as if we’d always known one another. There was an instantaneous bond and he was as fascinated about me as I about him. Grandpa can be best described as a classy New Orleans Gentlemen who makes his living making people happy and giving a piece of his heart everyday. He felt bad that he had just finished for the evening when I spotted him, but I told him that meeting him already made my trip worthwhile. I didn’t need anything more. The next day, before flying out, I stopped by Royal & Toulouse St. to say goodbye to Grandpa. That was when he dedicated to KaizenTao an acapella rendition of “Stand by Me” and a personal favorite, “House of the Rising Sun” with his magical passion.
When motorcycles passed by, Grandpa would ask me to re-film the clip to get the best possible clarity for my students. This man is a supremely caring and considerate perfectionist and when he gives, he gives his all… you heard!
Sharkula is a cult icon/rapper/homeless man/hustler from Chicago. He’s like the rap version of Wesley Willis with his stream-of-consciousness flow, but slightly more coherent. But only slightly. Says one Chicago musician, “He’s a star here, because if you’re in the scene here, if you do music, you know who he is. And if you don’t it just shows how disconnected you are.”
Watch the trailer for Sharkula: Diarrhea of a Madman, below: