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Street performance

Street performance or busking is the act of performing in public places for gratuities. In many countries the rewards are generally in the form of money but other gratuities such as food, drink or gifts may be given. Street performance is practiced all over the world by men, women and children and dates back to antiquity. People engaging in this practice are called street performers or buskers.

Performances are anything that people find entertaining. Performers may do acrobatics, animal tricks, balloon twisting, caricatures, clowning, comedy, contortions, escapology, dance, singing, fire skills, flea circus, fortune-telling, juggling, magic, mime, living statue, musical performance, puppeteering, snake charming, storytelling or reciting poetry or prose, street art such as sketching and painting, street theatre, sword swallowing, and ventriloquism.

The term busking was first noted in the English language around the middle 1860s in Great Britain. The verb to busk, from the word busker, comes from the Spanish root word buscar, with the meaning "to seek". The Spanish word buscar in turn evolved from the Indo-European word *bhudh-skō ("to win, conquer"). It was used for many street acts, and title of a famous Spanish book about one of them, El buscón. Today, the word is still used in Spanish but mostly relegated for female street sex workers, or women seeking to be set up as private mistress of married men.

  • Abby the Spoon Lady is a professional spoon player, street performer, and busking advocate that lives in Asheville, NC.
  • Josephine Baker started street dancing to make money and was recruited for the St. Louis Chorus vaudeville show at the age of 15, which started her dancing career, which branched into singing, films and many others.
  • Catfish the Bottleman a well known busker from Sydney, Australia, so inspired Van McCann of Catfish and the Bottlemen that he named his band after him. He watched him perform as a child and said that it was his first memory of music.
  • Tracy Chapman began her career busking in Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
  • Mike Doughty, former singer for Soul Coughing, released Busking, which contains 12 tracks from a 2007 busking performance in the 14th Street subway station in New York City.
  • Newton Faulkner has been known to busk and video footage of him busking has been made available on YouTube, including a full acoustic cover of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody".
  • Benjamin Franklin, the American inventor and statesman, was a street performer. He composed songs, poetry and prose about the current events and went out in public and performed them. He would then sell printed copies of them to the public. He was dissuaded from busking by his father who convinced him it was not worth the stigmas that some people attach to it. It was this experience that helped form his beliefs in free speech, which he wrote about in his journals.
  • G4, the British popera quartet, performed as buskers across London during their college days.
  • Shannon Hoon, former singer for Blind Melon, was known to busk all over the U.S.
  • Colin Huggins, classical pianist, performs on a Grand Piano in Washington Square Park and other parks in Greenwich Village, New York City
  • Guy Laliberté was a street performer when he founded the Cirque du Soleil theatrical company in 1984.
  • Loreena McKennitt, developing a passion for Celtic music, learned to play the Celtic harp and began busking at various places, including St. Lawrence Market in Toronto in order to earn money to record her first album.
  • Edward McMichael was a celebrated street musician known as Seattle's "Tuba Man", who busked outside of the city's various sports and performing arts venues. In 2008, he was killed by attackers who were attempting to rob him.
  • Sterling Magee and Adam Gussow, AKA Satan and Adam, were busking on 125th Street in Harlem, New York City, in the summer of 1987 when the members of U2, accompanied by a film crew, paused to watch the blues duo. The scene later appeared in the film Rattle and Hum.
  • George Michael used to busk near the London Underground, performing songs such as '39 by Queen.
  • Peter Mulvey, the singer-songwriter, recorded an entire album down in the Boston Subway, where he was a regular busker. In most cases, songs were recorded in one or two takes.
  • Kristyna Myles Myles won the BBC Radio 5 Live Busker of the Year competition in 2005 and has gone on to sign a recording contract with Decca. Her debut album is due for release in September 2012.
  • Paul Oscher, a famous Blues musician and harp player, has busked as "Brooklyn Slim" on the Venice Boardwalk to try out new material. Oscher, a two time W.C Handy Award winner, was the harp player for Muddy Waters and his band in the latter 1960s and early 1970s. He currently performs at Blues festivals in the U.S. and internationally.
  • Natalia Paruz who can be seen in movies such as Dummy and heard on many movie soundtracks has been playing the musical saw in the New York City subway since 1994.
  • Alice Tan Ridley, busked in New York City subway stations for 30 years; semi-finalist in America's Got Talent, mother of Gabourey Sidibe
  • Peg Leg Sam, a famous harmonica player from South Carolina, preferred busking over all other forms/venues. His most requested song was "John Henry".
  • Ketch Secor, whose group Old Crow Medicine Show started with busking and remains committed to it, has said: "People … have short attention spans. … So if you can get 'em to stop … if you can get 'em to listen with a song, then you've got yourself a keeper."
  • Rod Stewart began hanging around folk singer Wizz Jones and busking, at Leicester Square and other London spots in 1962. On several trips over the next 18 months Jones and Stewart took their act to Brighton and then to Paris, sleeping under bridges over the River Seine, and then finally to Barcelona. Finally this resulted in Stewart being rounded up and deported from Spain for vagrancy during 1963.
  • Tuba Skinny, street band in New Orleans
  • KT Tunstall, a popular Scottish singer, has been recorded busking in Glasgow.
  • Nik Turner, former saxophonist with Hawkwind and Inner City Unit, continues to busk regularly in the streets of his adopted hometown Cardigan.
  • Tyrannosaurus Rex members Marc Bolan and Steve Peregrin Took first performed as an acoustic guitar/bongos duo when they went busking together in Hyde Park in summer 1967 after their electric equipment had been confiscated by Track Records and their two bandmates had both left. In this acoustic format, the duo would go on to release three albums.
  • Violent Femmes were discovered by James Honeyman-Scott (of The Pretenders) on 23 August 1981, when the band was busking on a street corner in front of the Oriental Theatre, the Milwaukee venue that The Pretenders would be playing later that night. Chrissie Hynde invited them to play a brief acoustic set after the opening act.
  • Yamunabai Waikar, decorated Indian folk–LavaniTamasha artist busked with her mother as a child.
  • Hayley Westenra at one time busked on the streets of Christchurch, New Zealand.


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