In the last few months I have been a street performer, a busker, and lately, I have been wondering of the origins of it.  Some people think it is just a glorified  version of begging and I disagree.  So I have done some research and thought I would share “The Origin of Busking” .

The term Busking comes from the spanish word buskar, which means to seek, or to wander. Hence, the term “wandering minstrels”

Centuries ago,  minstrels and magicians would perform for the courts.  As the court got more sophisticated, they kicked these performers out of the court.  The minstrels would then go from town to town playing in the street at local inns.  They would be paid in the way of a meal and/or a place to stay for the night.  Eventually, as time went on, buskers would be asked  to play in front of a local merchant’s store or a plaza to help generate business and they would be paid money.   The Romans used to give money to performers that would play in the street as they passed by, possibly the start of “playing for tips”.

The roots of American busking go back to circuses that went from coast to coast.  They would do their acrobats, sword swallowing, comedy, and juggling on street corners and soon became a mainstay in American culture.  Then of  course were the organ grinders.  There were also people who sold goods and health elixirs, people who spread the news on the street.  Though I have not found anything that says definitively, only suggestively, Vaudeville may have been considered busking.  The big acts like the circus of performers or magicians would “pass the hat” through the crowd after their show, known as “circle performers”.

Nowadays, busking is done in practically every major city in the country and even smaller ones too.  Personally, I think it is a wonderful way to find and/or explore music you may never hear anywhere else.  I also want to add , that buskers busk because they love doing what they do.  For the most part, it is not because they are lazy, they love to play music or whatever else it is they are doing, be it magic, juggling, comedy, or an artist, they just love to be out doing what hey are doing and making people happy and giving them a nice memory or enjoyment.

There have been a lot of famous people who started off busking, in a previous blog, I mentioned Jimmy Buffet and Tracy Chapman, below there a a whole lot more.   So you never know, who you see on the street today, could be a well known musician or performer tomorrow.  And you can say,  “I had my picture taken with that person when they were playing on the street!”  It would also make a good story to tell someone.
B B King
Dolly Parton
Edith Piaf
Elliot Smith
Elvis Costello
Eric Clapton
The Flying Karamotsov’s
George Burns
George Jones
Gerry Rafferty,
Hank Williams
Harry Anderson
Hayley Westenra
Huey Lewis
Irving Berlin
Janis Joplin
Jeremy Irons
Jerry Jeff Walker
Jill Hennessy
Jimmy Buffett
Joan Baez
Joaquin Phoenix
Joni Mitchell
Josephine Baker
Judy Collins
Kanye West
KT Tunstall
Lena Lovich
Leonard Cohen
Long John Baldry
Lou ReedBeck
Benjamin Franklin
Bernie Mac
Bill Robinson (Mr.Bojangles)
Billy Bragg
Blind Lemon Jefferson
Blue Man Group
Bob Dylan
Bob Hope
Bon Jovi
Brian Jones
Champion Jack Dupree
Cirque Du Soleil
Country Joe McDonald
Damien Rice
David Byrne (Talking Heads)
David Gilmour
Dixie Chicks
Django Reinhardt
Louis Armstrong
Madeleine Peyroux
Manic Street Preachers
Marcel Marceau
Memphis Minnie
Muddy Waters
Neil Young
Norah Jones
Q’Orianka Kilcher
Opera Babes
Patch Adams
Patti Smith
Paul Bettany
Paul McCartney

From time to time, I will be posting blogs about my experiences as a busker.  I hope you will enjoy the story of my journey.

Thank you for reading this post.  -James

1 comment
  1. Alex said:

    Thanks for sharing the history of busking. It’s amazing how many ‘greats’ started with a dream, and through humble beginnings found thier way to fame. It pays to do what you love!

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