Concord Music Group News

NEWS 23 Apr 2010

Grandpa Elliott An Internet Sensation - The Advocate - New Orleans, LA

Grandpa Elliott an Internet sensation

WHEN: Saturday, April 24 (11:15 a.m.)
WHERE: New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival presented by Shell (Blues Tent)

A French Quarter entertainer since he was 6 years old, 65-year-old Grandpa Elliott Small found more fame than he dared dream of last year when a music video featuring himself and 36 other musicians from throughout the world struck a chord on the Internet.

Small, shown in the French Quarter wearing his signature overalls and red shirt, appears in a globe-circling performance of "Stand By Me" along with singers and musicians filmed in Santa Monica, Calif., Zuni, N.M., Brazil, The Netherlands, Russia, Italy, The Congo and South Africa.

The "Stand By Me" video is a component of Grammy-winning producer Mark Johnson's Playing For Change, a multimedia concept including last year's CD-DVD release, Playing For Change: Songs Around The World.

Following Small's "Stand By Me" video appearance, he joined the Playing For Change band for an international tour and appearances on The Tonight Show, The Bonnie Hunt Show and The Colbert Report.

"Well, in the past I was happy," the singer and harmonica player said a few weeks ago. "When I had a headache or stomach ache, I would go to the French Quarters, start singing to the tourists, and I was happy. But then something happened. An explosion happened.

"I was in the street singing my heart out and a guy came up to me. He was with maybe about five other guys. They had some little raggedy cameras. And he asked me if I know ‘Stand By Me.' "

Of course, Small knew Ben E. King's 1961 hit. When he had a group, he sang it all the time.

Johnson, leader of the guys with cameras, explained his Playing For Change concept to Small and invited the New Orleans street performer to participate.

"OK, I've been singing in the French Quarters all my life," Small said. "People came to me with cameras, but nothing happened. More years passed, a thousand more people passed and asked me to sing for them. In my mind, I say, ‘Maybe, I'm go' be a star.' It didn't happen.

"But I have a tendency of feeling people's heart, if you gotta good heart. I felt that in all those guys that with this gentleman, Mark Johnson."

Small agreed to sing for Johnson's film and audio crew, never anticipating that the performance would be seen by tens of millions.

"People was coming to me in droves," he said of performances he gave at Royal and Toulouse following the release of the "Stand By Me" video. "I said, ‘Lord, what happened here?' People saw it on the computer, but I didn't. I was the last one to see it."

Small finally saw the video shortly before he lost what remaining vision he had.

"My eyes was about to go out completely," he said. "And that's when I heard it on the computer. I got close to the screen. Then I really kind of saw it. That thing was so beautiful. It was beautiful like the people explained it. It got to me the way the people explained it. A lot of people couldn't express the feeling it gave them. A lot of them, the tears came from they eyes."

Thanks to the video's success, Small had a busy 2009 as a member of the Playing For Change band, performing at such high-profile venues as England's Glastonbury Festival, Hollywood Bowl and the Santa Monica Pier Twilight Dance Series.

"Been to Hollywood for the first time," he said. "The youngsters took an old man to Hollywood. You don't know how happy I was. People just kept asking me, ‘What do you think about Playing For A Change.' They wanted me to express how happy I was."

Touring with a group of musicians much younger than himself was a joy, too.

"When all of us got in the bus, they closed the door and pulled off like a jet going to the next stop," Small said. "They had a young lady in charge and she was on the ball. On time. Never late. We would do a set, march off the stage and march inside the bus. I never was handled like that, but it was good. And as it went on and on and on, the next place, then sound check and rehearsals, it became fun to me. More fun than the Quarters. So I just let the youngsters have their way."

Following last spring's Top 10 U.S. debut for the Playing For Change: Songs Around The World CD-DVD set, the Playing For Change/Concord Music Group released Small's CD debut, Sugar Sweet, in November. Like Songs Around The World before it, Sugar Sweet features Small with an international group of musicians.

Sugar Sweet production began with "Sugar Is Sweet," recorded in New York City on a day off during the 2009 spring tour. Small cut his vocals for the song in a single take. Most of the other songs - including remakes of Jimmy Reed's "Baby, What You Want Me To Do," Sam Cooke's "Another Saturday Night" and the traditional "This Little Light Of Mine" - were recorded in New Orleans.

Though he has enjoyed the traveling and attention he's received through Playing For Change, Small still loves being at home in New Orleans, where he performs April 24 at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

"Hey, I don't care where I go, I wanna come back to New Orleans. It's just in me to be here because the love I issue out here, the people give it right back, right quick. They give it back away from here, too, but not right quick!"


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