“Grandpa” Elliott Small
SYNDEY BYRD PHOTOGRAPH
New Orleans provides so many sensory experiences to visitors that overload is not an unusual reaction. The smells of the city are unique, and the same is true of the cuisine and the architecture. The air is actually “touchable” because the place is close to the Gulf and surrounded by water, so humidity never occurs at a low percentage number.
But what most visitors carry away from New Orleans, besides a few extra pounds of body weight, is the sensation of music everywhere. A walk down any street in the French Quarter yields many styles of talented musicians making a living by staging impromptu concerts on corners, in doorways, in clubs, standing on milk cartons and even in front of museums and churches.
A truly beloved street musician, a man whose rough visage belies an angel’s voice, is “Grandpa” Elliott Small. First of all, unlike a lot of street musicians, he’s local. He’s spent his whole life in New Orleans. Born just a few blocks away from his “corner,” Royal Street and Toulouse, Grandpa plays the harmonica and sings as sweet as you have ever heard.
Carriages, filled with lovers and families, stop so he can serenade them. Hollywood film and music producers have discovered him, several times. Most recently, he was a featured performer in a musical documentary film, Playing for Change, in which he works with musicians from all over the world on singing “Stand by Me.” It’s on YouTube and has received many international accolades.
Yet Grandpa has no intention of leaving his beloved New Orleans. Blindness is overtaking one of his senses. Still he is committed to bringing joy to anyone who will spend a few moments taking in his art.
In his own words: “This is where I belong. The French Quarter ain’t got no roof. My concert hall is as far as the eye can see.”