When I turned 70 years old, the Good Lord blessed me with my 3rd baby…. and my 1st little girl….which has been an incredible blessing in my life…. whereby when I turned 74….that is when I was given the miracle of my 3rd son….as both are sister and brother to their two older brothers….who already had given me five grandchildren…..and they call my little girl Auntie since she was born….while calling my 3rd son, Uncle, since the day he was born…. then in addition to my two latest blessings….the two of them introduced me to a video on the internet….which was a Playing for Change video of the song “What a Wonderful World”…..which I watched because I had always loved the song made famous by Louie Armstrong. After watching the video over and over about a half-dozen times in a row…..which featured children from all over the world performing the song….along with an old man called Grandpa Elliot…. that is when I got turned on to Playing for a Change….so, I looked the group up and found a wonderful array of music videos featuring mostly street musicians from all over the world performing awesome musical renditions of songs like “Stand By Me”….”Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay”…..”A Change Is Gonna Come”…..”Amazing Grace”…..”Sugar Sweet”…..”Down By The Riverside”…..”There’s A Train A Coming”…..et al….and there was Grandpa Elliot standing out on many of the videos….so, I became hooked on the project itself…..and when I read that Grandpa had died on March 8, 2022, I decided that he deserved his rightful place in my L E’s Stories section here at ImaSportsphile….for here was a man who changed the world from the inside out….as he changed hearts and he made people care more and have a better life…..which he touched through his music on the streets of New Orleans and all over the world through Playing for Change….as you also will find in the videos posted herewith. I hope ya’ll enjoy this story and video history of Grandpa Elliott Small.
Music – 2010 – Playing For Change – Song Around The World – “What a Wonderful World” – With Grandpa Elliott & Kids All Over the World
Music – 2022 – Playing For Change Documentary Special – “Grandpa Elliott Celebration of Life – His Story and His Life”
Elliot Small (July 10, 1944 – March 8, 2022), known as Grandpa Elliott, also known as Uncle Remus, was a veteran street-musician in New Orleans, Louisiana…..where he played the harmonica, sang and was a street icon in the French Quarter of New Orleans on the corner of Royal and Toulouse …..where he resided and played music for the better part of 65 years…..while bringing joy of sound and soul to the locals and visitors of the Crescent City. Grandpa has been a New Orleans street icon for decades…..where his music and comforting presence have touched countless hearts throughout the years. I have traveled to New Orleans at least a dozen times between 1975 and 1991….during my years associated with Madison Square Garden, The Sports Place at 302 E. 6th Street in downtown Austin, Texas…..where I saw two NCAA Final Fours, two Superbowls and three world championship boxing events….and three things that I did every time I was in the Crescent City was eat incredible Cajun food in New Orleans…..plus, eat fresh shelled oysters and drink bloody mary coctails at Felix Oyster Bar…..as well as go to the corner of Royal and Toulouse in the French Quarters to see and hear Grandpa Elliot’s music…. which is why this post is so near and dear to me. When you are a regular visitor of New Orleans and you think of the French Quarter, you probably think of Grandpa Elliot…..cuz he was a fixture of the Quarter as much as any icon of the French Quarters….where many locals and frequent visitors to the Quarter consider Grandpa to be the saving grace and passionate force behind the revitalization of the city since Hurricane Katrina. His voice reminds us all that music can help the soul persevere through many hardships. With a voice that tickles the soul and a harmonica that lifts the spirit, Grandpa continued to dazzle audiences from street corners to stages across the country and the world.
Music – 2009 – New Orleans French Quarter Street Music – Grandpa Elliott – “Sugar Sweet”
Music – 2000 – New Orleans French Quarter Street Music – Grandpa Elliott & Stoney B Medley – “Who’s Loving You Tonight” + “I’m A King Bee” + “Do You Remember”
Grandpa Elliott Small’s career on the streets of the French Quarter spans 65 years…..where his usual spot was the corner of Toulouse and Royal streets, right where he started out….as he said, “I used to tap here when I was a little kid.” One day when his uncle, a street musician, left for work without his harmonica, he picked it up and put it to his mouth…..“Oooh, it was awful,” he said, laughing…..“He chewed tobacco. I had to sterilize that thing.” He fell in love with the sound of the mouth harp and taught himself by playing along with the music on his mama’s radio. The mournful sound you sometimes hear in his songs hints at the tragedy he endured after somebody discovered him in the French Quarter. “They brought me to New York to tap on Broadway when I was 6 or 7, and my mama got killed up there,” he said. The man they lived with beat them both and ended up killing his mother. “Like I tell a lot of ladies, ‘If a man balls up his fists at you, that’s the time to leave him for good,'” Small said stoically. “He’s going to say ‘I’m sorry,’ and then he’s going to do the same thing again.'” After it happened, his grandmother brought him back to New Orleans and gave him and his older sister Frances a good life. “She was a sweet old lady,” he said. This French Quarter corner feels like home to the blind singer…..where he was a familiar sight in his blue denim overalls, bright red shirt, Santa beard and floppy hat…..when he arrives here most mornings by taxi and spent his days singing his soulful songs and playing his harmonica. It’s the place where everybody knew his name. “Hey, Grandpa!” a young man called out, as he pedaled by on a bicycle.
Music – 1995 – New Orleans Street Music – Grandpa Elliott & Oscar Castro – “Only You”
Music – 2009 – Live on Stage in Boston – Grandpa Elliott – “Amazing Grace”
Maybe it’s more accurate to say the world is the place where everybody knows his name now…..for at age 65, Grandpa became a part of “Playing for Change: Peace Through Music,”…..which is a documentary project that includes a CD/DVD set…..along with a film that aired nationally on PBS last year and a video of Q! featuring musicians from around the globe. The video has been seen on YouTube and Vimeo by more than 30 million people. “People spots me all the way from Canal Street in my red shirt, and they start shouting, ‘There’s Grandpa! There’s Grandpa!'” Small said, punctuating his words with his big baritone laugh. He explained how he got involved in the project….when a long time ago as the sight in his good eye started to go and everything got fuzzy…..wherein he signed away the rights to one of his songs, saying “It was to a guy I had taken a liking to, a guy I trusted,” he said.
Music – 1989 – Rare Video – Grandpa Elliott – “Under The Boardwalk” and “Stand By Me”
Music – 2011 – New Orleans French Quarter Street Music – Grandpa Elliott & Dorise + Tanya – “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love Rap”
Grandpa Elliott was born as Elliott Small on July 10, 1944 in New Orleans, Louisiana…..while growing up in the Lafitte Housing Projects, he developed a love of music as a young boy, in part to deal with the pains of an unhappy home life. Small’s uncle was a professional musician who worked with Lloyd Washington of the Ink Spots…..and often let his nephew come to the Dew Drop Inn to hear them play….then one day when his uncle left for work without his harmonica….that’s when Small picked up the harmonica and put it to his mouth….. “Oooh, it was awful,” he said, laughing…..“cuz he chewed tobacco…..so, I had to sterilize that thing.” The uncle gave young Elliott a harmonica…..and he fell in love with the sound of the mouth harp….while teaching himself by playing along with the music on his mama’s radio….but at home, Small’s mother favored classical music….which gave the youngster diverse tastes at an early age. Teaching himself to dance from watching Fred Astaire movies on television, Small began performing on street corners for change….while dancing, singing and playing his harmonica.
Music – 1994 – New Orleans Street Music – Grandpa Elliott & Stoney B – “Just Your Fool ”
Music – 2008 – New Orleans Street Music Live – Granpa Elliott – “You’re My Everything”
“They brought me to New York to tap on Broadway when I was 6 or 7, and my mama got killed up there,” Elliott said…..as the man they lived with beat them both and ended up killing his mother. After it happened, his grandmother brought Small back to New Orleans and gave him and his older sister Frances a good life. “She was a sweet old lady,” he said. “My stepfather was a man who did not love his child,” he said. “But my uncle would come to the house, and play the harmonica to me.”
Music – 2009 – New Orleans Street Music – New Years Eve Day – Tanya & Dorise with Grampa Elliot Bring In The New Year with “Stand by Me”
Music – 1967 – A.B.S. Records Presents – Elliott Small – “I’m A Devil”
Before he grew into the tag “Grandpa” (and before he grew his Santa Claus beard), Small already had a long career in New Orleans music….as he had recorded some of his own songs, including “Girls Are Made for Lovin'” and “I’m a Devil.” He had performed in local clubs and gone on the road. But that bad experience sent him back to the streets of New Orleans, where it was just him and guitarist Stoney B…..along with the people who stopped to listen to them and throw change in their bucket.
Music – 1969 – Bang Records Presents – Elliott Small – “Girls Are Made For Lovin'”
Music – 1999 – Grandpa Elliott & Stoney B – “Key To The Highway“
As a young man, Small then made the rounds as a soul singer in local clubs. He recorded singles with arranger Wardell Quezergue, some of which are available on Malaco and Tuff City Records compilations of New Orleans funk. In the early ’60s, Small’s family relocated to New York City, where he took his first steps as a professional entertainer…..as Small once again played on the streets in between regular gigs…..which included a role in a stage revival of Show Boat…..when he helped the Louisiana vocal group The Dixie Cups go up to New York…..plus, he opened on tour with The Temptations, and cut a few of his own R&B singles.
Music – 2016 – New Orleans Street Music Special – Grandpa Elliott & Kellen Special – “Stand By Me”
Music – 2007 – New Orleans Street Music Special – Grandpa Elliott & Dorise Blackmon – “Fannie Mae”
In the early ’60’s, he recorded “I’m a Devil” for A.B.S. Records of New York, and made a splash performing it while wearing what some fans remember as a red devil’s suit complete with horns and pitchfork. “Well, it wasn’t called a devil suit,” he said. “It was a pretty, silk red suit, that looked good. It was a nice show.”…..when at the time, Small remembers, he was billed as “The Harmonica King.” He also recorded his own “Girls Are Made for Lovin'” in 1969…..as a Wardell Quezergue (“Big Q”) production which has the feel of something by Curtis Mayfield, maybe, or Smokey Robinson. It’s not an identifiably New Orleans record…..albeit was made there…..while originally having been released on the New Sound label and picked up by Bang. Small was featured on out-of-town bills promoted by the day’s top New Orleans booker, Joe Jones.
Music – 2021 – PT at Large Special -Talking To Grandpa Elliott About Playing For Change as He Sits on the Corner of Toulouse and Royal in New Orleans, LA
Music – 2018 – New Orleans Street Music Special – Grandpa Elliott & Ian Forbes – “Bring It On Home To Me” + “John Henry Was A Driving Man”
Small recorded the funk song “E-Ni-Me-Ni-Mi-Ni-Mo” at Sea-Saint Studios in New Orleans, probably in 1975. Small produced the session and co-wrote the song along with Quezergue and guitarist Teddy Royal. Malaco purchased the master in 1976 and released it as a two-part single, which was a commercial failure.
Music – 1994 – New Orleans Street Music Live – Grandpa Elliott & Stoney B – “(Hoochie Coochie Man) I’m A Man”
Music – 2000 – New Orleans Street Music Live – Grandpa Elliott Medley – “Phantom of the Opera” + “Unchained Melody” + “If It Don’t Work Out”
By the ’80s, Small had had enough of the grueling schedule…along with bad decisions and unfair contracts…..which had soured him on the industry…..so, he took his music to the streets, where it would belong only to him and to the passersby who heard it…..as the New Orleans French Quarter and the corner of Royal & Toulouse had always been home to him….and that’s where he returned.
Music – 2017 – New Orleans Street Music Medley Live – Grandpa Elliott & Michael Monteleone – “Stand By Me” + “Under The Boardwalk” + “Cupid, Please Hear My Cry” + “Working On The Chain Gang” + “He Don’t Love You, Like I Love You”
Music – 2011 – New Orleans French Quarter Music Live – Grandpa Elliott & The Playing For Change Band – “Good Vibratons”
His listeners rewarded him with dollar bills and treasures, like the gold wedding band he wore on his finger. “A lot of people walk around with plastic now instead of cash, so they throw what they can,” he said. “Some of the rings I get out of my bucket even have diamonds on them.”
Music – 2016 – New Orleans Street Music Live – Grandpa Elliott – “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” + “What A Wonderful World”
Music – 2009 – New Orleans French Quarter Street Music Live – Grandpa Elliot & Oscar Castro – “Rock Me Baby”
Fast forward a couple of decades. Los Angeles recording engineer Mark Johnson showed up at his corner with a camera and asked him if he knew Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me.” “He told me, ‘We got this guy in California singing it, and we came to New Orleans to find another singer,'” Small said. ‘It was glorious’ as Johnson explained that he wanted to go around the world, filming street performers singing “Stand by Me” and then put them together…..so, Small agreed to be part of it, even though he figured nothing would come of it. “I was looking for the same thing to happen as happened before,” he said. Much later, he got to listen to the finished product on a computer….with 37 artists from faraway places, joined in global harmony. “It was fabulous. It was glorious how Mark Johnson did it,” Small said. “We had never even met each other. Then we went on tour together, and now we know each other very, very well.”
Music – 2005 – A Mark Johnson Playing For Change Production – “Stand By Me” – Featuring Roger Ripley + Grandpa Elliott + Clarence Bekker et al
Music – 2011 – Playing For Change Street Musicians Composition Production – “Sittin’ On The Dock of the Bay” – Featuring Roger Ridley + Clarence Bekker + Grandpa Elliot
Johnson had gotten the idea for the project in 2005, when he happened upon singer Roger Ridley performing Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me” for tips on the Santa Monica pier. He spent the next few years traveling the world, recording and filming more than 100 musicians…..when he recorded South African buskers…..while he took his digital equipment into the Himalayas….. as he taped an Irish children’s choir that united Catholic and Protestant singers…..and he got tracks in India, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Ghana and Israel. He even recorded Bono…..and of course, he waxed “Grandpa” Elliott Small on his corner in the French Quarter.
Music – 2015 – Live Concert in Australia – Playing For Change Band – Featuring Clarence Bekker + Gramdpa Elliott + the PFC Band – “I’d Rather Go Blind”
Music – 2015 – Live Concert in Australia – Playing For Change Band – Featuring Tula + Roberto Luti + Gramdpa Elliott + the PFC Band – “Teach Your Children Well”
Once the field work was done, Johnson created each track, by editing together, seamlessly, dozens of recordings from separate artists taped throughout the world. The album’s final version of “Stand by Me,” the song that inspired the project, is an astonishing pastiche…..which features 37 artists who had not yet met one another. The result is that the “Playing for Change” record is more than just a compilation…..for it’s a cross-cultural sonic unification.
Music – 2015 – Live at the Plaza Vaticano del Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires – The Playing For Change Band – “Back To Your Roots” – Featuring Jason Tamba + Tula + Grandpa Elliott et al
Music – 2012 – The Playing For Change Band – “What’s Going On” – Featuring Lead Singer Clarence Bekker + Lead Guitar Louis Mhlanga + Grandpa Elliot + The PFC Band
The performers did finally meet…..and on June 27, 2009, the Playing for Change band…..which featured more than two dozen musicians whose tracks became “Stand by Me,”…..when they headlined the Jazz/World stage at the United Kingdom’s monstrous Glastonbury Festival. It is one of the world’s largest outdoor music festivals…..to which Grandpa Elliott responded “I thought the Jazz Fest was really big.”
Music – 2015 – Playing For Change Street Musicians Composition Production – “Lean On Me” – Featuring Niki La Rosa + Grandpa Elliot + Titi Tsira
Music – 2014 – Playing For Change Street Musicians Composition Production – “Down By The Riverside” – Featuring Granpa Elliott + Keb Mo et al
A YouTube video of the band performing “Stand by Me” got more than 20 million views earlier this year….which made it the # 1 rated clip in the site’s history…..and turned the project into something of a global phenomenon. The two-disc CD/DVD set released by Hear Music debuted at # 10 on the Billboard charts at the end of April…..and has already sold more than 100,000 copies…..which in regards to Grandpa Elliott is not bad company for a French Quarter street musician from the 6th Ward.
Music – 2015 – Live at the Plaza Vaticano del Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires – The Playing For Change Band – “Stand By Me” – Featuring Mermans Mosengo + Grandpa Elliott + Tula et al
Music – 2012 – The Playing For Change Band – “A Change Is Gonna Come” – Featuring Clarence Bekker + Grandpa Elliot + The PFC Band
Last year, the Playing for Change Band came to New Orleans to accompany Small on his debut CD “Sugar Sweet,” an eclectic collection that includes gospel, blues, soul and what Small calls “some strong love songs.” He’s the first artist to be signed to Playing for Change Records/Concord Music Group. The whole experience taught him to trust people again. “Mark Johnson changed my life,” he said. “He made me lift my head up.” But performing on this corner is still what Small loves to do most. “When I feel sick, I come out here to feel better,” he said. “The French Quarter is my medicine.” And his listeners reward him with dollar bills and treasures, like the gold wedding band he wears on his finger. “A lot of people walk around with plastic now instead of cash, so they throw what they can,” he said. “Some of the rings I get out of my bucket even have diamonds on them.” On one sunny afternoon Tom Gilmore from Chicago walked up and handed him something more precious than a diamond ring. “It’s a crossover with a bamboo comb,” he explained, while Small felt the new Hohner harmonica with his fingers. “This man is my lifesaver,” Small said, raising the gift to his lips. “What key is this?” he asked, after he blows into it. “You got any in another key?” Gilmore reached into his knapsack, pulled out a second new Hohner, and handed it to him. “You know, these things are like 80 bucks,” he said, smiling. For eight years, Gilmore has been bringing Small harmonicas whenever he comes to New Orleans. “For me, the whole essence of the French Quarter is the street performers,” he said. “Grandpa is one of the reasons I keep coming back here.” Gilmore first heard Small perform when he came to New Orleans to celebrate his 60th birthday. “I went home and bought a harmonica and started taking lessons,” he said. When he heard that, Small let out another hearty laugh. “I got a whole bunch of people playing harmonica,” he said. “I make all of them go back to school.”
Music – 2014 – The Playing For Change Band Live in Australia – “Fannie Mae” – Featuring Grandpa Elliot + The PFC Band
Music – 2009 – Playing For Change Live At Dodger Stadium – “God Bless America” – Sung by Grandpa Elliot
Small did not completely lose his sight to glaucoma until 2005. It was in that year that recording engineer and producer Mark Johnson launched his project called Playing for Change…..which is dedicated to promoting international unity through music…..when he began recording performances by street performers from around the world. Johnson heard Small sing the Ben E. King hit “Stand by Me”…..and he immediately recorded him singing the tune on Royal Street…..while making his performance the centerpiece of a video featuring performances of the number by a couple of handfuls of artists. In 2009, after the “Stand by Me” video was posted online, it racked up 177,097,721 plays on YouTube (March 9, 2022)…..and suddenly Grandpa Elliott had an international audience…..so, he signed on for a tour with a band of musicians affiliated with the Playing for Change project…..which led to appearance on The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien and The Colbert Report…..then he performed to a crowd of more than 40,000 at Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles, California, on June 30, 2009…..while playing the “Star Spangled Banner” on harmonica and singing “God Bless America.” Later that same year, the Playing for Change Band came to New Orleans to accompany Small on his debut CD Sugar Sweet, released November 3, 2009, an eclectic collection that includes gospel, blues, soul and what Small called “some strong love songs.” Keb Mo’ also accompanied on the album…..as Grandpa Elliot is the first artist to be signed to Playing for Change Records/Concord Music Group. The whole experience taught him to trust people again. “Mark Johnson changed my life,” he said. “He made me lift my head up.” As evidenced by the videos seen in this post herewith….Grandpa Elliott Small has been featured on Playing for Change in multiple songs and episodes.
Music – 2011 – Playing For Change Street Musicians Composition Production – “United” – Featuring Jason Tamba + Mermans Mosengo + Tula + Grandpa Elliot
Music – 2014 – The Playing For Change Band Live in Australia – “Back To Your Roots” – Featuring Jason Tamba + Louis Mhlanga + Grandpa Elliot + The PFC Band
Even though I had made an obvious effort to see and listen to Grandpa Elliott on many occasions during my half-dozen visits to the New Orleans French Quarter during the decade of the 1980’s and the early 1990’s…..as the fact be known, I really did not know much about the man….and certainly did not know how talented he was….nor how diverse his repertoire of music was …..but after viewing all of these videos posted in this story herewith, I have become extremely impressed with his wonderful ability to sing and play all genres of music…..whether it be from opera to classical to funk to rap to blues to soul to rock n roll to pop to rhythm and blues to patriotic to gospel…..as the fact remains obvious that he could perform them all….and do it very well. As evidenced by Grandpa Elliott, the real musician doesn’t care where they are performing…..cuz they just love music and want to spread their music to everybody. He had a talent to not only sing and play music…..but also the talent to move people …..and make a difference to someone that might be feeling a bit lonely across the other side of the earth…..cus his love comes through his music….for it is my opinion that he helped many people, especially those with emotional problems…..cuz he was most probably a super friend to have. With his mystical and breathtaking harmonica and his superlative voice, he was simply a magic man and catalyst for good…..with music that will live on…..which is the kind that we need now more then ever…..and for those of us who love visiting the New Orleans French Quarter…..his voice will always carry through the streets and definitely will grab your attention as you’re approaching the corner of Royal & Toulouse…..where he performed for nigh on six decades….with his songs that brought brightness to the world….and like your teacher Jesus Christ, you gave so much love to the world, so. keep playing in the upper room….cuz we’re always listening.
Music – 2013 – The Playing for Change Band – Live at Bourbon Street Music Club – São Paulo / Brasil – “Stand by Me” – Featuring Grandpa Elliot
Music – 2011 – Playing For Change Presents – “Imagine” (John Lennon) – Song Around The World – Featuring Clarence Bekker + Noel Scnairis + Grandpa Elliot et al
Grandpa Elliott Small died in a hospital in Jefferson, Louisiana from complications of a skin infection on March 8, 2022….as the “French Quarter King of the Corner of Royal and Toulouse” continued to sit on his throne of beautiful music until his last days here on this Earth….for those of us at ImaSportsphile know full well that you had a special corner of Heaven already reserved for you when you arrived…..and the millions of folks who love the New Orleans French Quarter will miss your smile and your song so much.
Music – 2022 – Special – Grandpa Elliot Last Moments On The Streets Before Death
Music – 1975 – Elliott Small – “E Ni Me Ni Mi Ni Mo”