10 Famous Stars That Started as Buskers

These stars might be known all around the world today, but they started it all by busking on the street!

The next time you walk through the city or into the subway, don’t ignore the buskers out of hand. The artists you only spend a moment on may well sell millions of albums one day, or become some of the biggest names in Hollywood.

Don’t believe me? Tell that to these famous stars who started their careers as buskers:

1. Glen Hansard

The Irish singer-songwriter is the vocalist and guitarist for the rock band The Frames, one half of the folk-rock duo The Swell Season, and is also known for his acting. He has appeared in BAFTA-winning film The Commitments and the award-winning film Once, for which he won several awards, including the Oscar for Best Original Song for ‘Falling Slowly.’

However, before he was an award-winning actor and musician, he was busking on the streets of Dublin as a young teen. He quit school at the age of 13, and he instead started busking in Dublin, singing and playing songs by Bob Dylan and Van Morrison on his guitar. In 2019, when listening to a young busker in Dublin, he joined in for a song, returning to his first performances as a singer.

Busking in 2019: 

2. Passenger

Passenger is the stage name of English folk-rock singer-songwriter Michael Rosenberg. He was nominated for the Brit Award British Single of the Year in 2014 for the song ‘Let Her Go.’

A classically trained guitarist, he started writing songs at the age of 14 or 15 and left school at 16. He started the band Passenger with Andrew Phillips in 2003 and kept the name as a stage name after the band broke up in 2009. After leaving school, he spent the next few years as a busker, first in Brighton, and then traveling across England and Australia after the breakup of his band. He would work odd jobs while also busking as a guitarist and singer. Even after becoming a star, he will still occasionally busk when on tour before shows.

Busking in a mall in Adelaide in 2011 before a performance:

3. Rod Stewart

He’s one of the biggest musicians in the world and was knighted in 2016 for his services to music and charity. 

But before he was known as Sir Rod Steward and was selling millions of records worldwide, he was busking alongside folk singer Wizz Jones. Stewart played the harmonica, and the duo first started busking at Leicester Square and other parts of London, before traveling around Brighton, Paris, and Barcelona. Stewart was even deported from Spain for vagrancy while in working as a busker in the country with Jones. In 2017, he surprised crowds in Piccadilly Circus in London with an impromptu street performance of Handbags and Gladrags. 

2017 street performance:

4. Tracy Chapman

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Tracy Chapman is a multi-platinum and four-time Grammy Award-winning folk and blues-rock artist. She started playing the ukulele at age three, and the guitar at age 8, which is also when she started writing songs. 

As a student at Tufts University, she obtained a permit from the Cambridge Arts Council, which allowed her to perform as a busker in Harvard Square. She would sing and play the guitar, with no amplification. It was here that a fellow student’s father, who was in charge of a record label, discovered her, and helped her sign with Elektra Records when she left school.

5. Jewel

A four-time Grammy-nominated artist, Jewel is a singer-songwriter and actress. She received a partial scholarship to the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan, where she learned to play the guitar.

She started busking as a young child, when she and her father would perform at roadhouses and taverns as a father-daughter duo, as well as hotels and bars. When in school in Michigan, she would often perform live in coffee shops. After graduating, she spent some time living in her van and traveling across the country and busking and performing small gigs.

6. Damien Rice

Damien Rice is an Irish singer-songwriter who began his career as part of the rock band Juniper, along with Paul Noonan, Dominic Philips, David Geraghty, and Brian Crosby. They met when they were all attending Salesian College in Celbridge, Ireland together. The band released 3 albums before Rice left the band in 1998. The remaining members then formed the band Bell X1.

Following the breakup of the band, Rice moved to Tuscany and became a farmer, after which he busked through Europe before returning to Ireland in 2001 to start a solo career. After becoming a star, he has occasionally also had impromptu street performances, including in Prague and Dublin on Christmas Eve 2018, when he teamed up others including Glen Hansard, Bono, and Imelda May.

busking in Prague, 2012

busking in Dublin, 2018

7. Pierce Brosnan

He’s better known as Bond. James Bond.

Before Irish actor Pierce Brosnan was cast as the fifth actor to play the best-known spy in Hollywood, he started his performing career by busking as a fire-eater.

Having left school at 16, he decided to become a commercial illustrator and was attending Saint Martin’s School of Art in London. During this period, he attended a workshop where a fire-eater was teaching people to eat fire. He used this class to create a circle show and busk in London, where he was spotted and hired by a circus agent. This, in turn, led to him training as an actor at the Drama Centre London. 

Brosnan would go on to use his fire-eating skills in the TV shows ‘Remington Steele’ and ‘The Muppets Show.’ 

Brosnan eating fire on The Muppets Show:

8. Ed Sheeran

At the age of just 29, he’s already sold 150 million albums worldwide, making him one of the world’s best-selling music artists. English singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran is one of the best-known names in music today, but before he was selling out stadiums, he was a teenager busking in the streets of England.

Sheeran began writing music when he was in his teens, and independently recorded his first album, ‘Spinning Man,’ when he was just 13. He worked as a busker across the country as a teenager – he met close friend and fellow musician Passenger when he was 15 and they were both busking in Cambridge, and left school and moved to London at 16 where continued to busk and also worked as a guitar tech for Nizlopi. After posting a video online, he was invited to tour with rapper Example.

Busking at St. Pancras International in 2010, before he became famous:

9. B.B. King

Born Riley B. King, B.B. King was – and remains – one of the most influential blues musicians of all time, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997.

As a young child, he was brought up by his maternal grandmother in Kilmichael, Mississippi, and sang in the gospel choir in the church. The local minister taught King to use the guitar. He would perform on the streets as a child, singing and playing simple songs he learned from the radio.

He later played at jazz nights across the country before becoming a singer and disc jockey at a radio station in Tennessee, where he gave himself the name ‘B.B.’

10. Robin Williams

Robin Williams was, and remains, one of the most beloved actors of all time. Some of his best-known movies include Mrs. Doubtfire, Jumanji, Dead Poets Society, and Good Will Hunting. He was nominated for four Oscars and won one for Best Supporting Actor. He also received two Emmy Awards, six Golden Globes, two SAG Awards, and four Grammy Awards. 

But before he was a world-famous actor, he performed as a mime outside New York’s Museum of Modern Arts while studying at Julliard to make extra money. After leaving Julliard, he performed stand-up comedy at clubs in the San Francisco Bay Area, which helped him launch a television career.

Conclusion

Street-performing is an art that really requires you to get yourself out there. Busking gave many of these stars the kick-start to work on their musical and performance skills in front of the public, while also getting some money along the way to pay the bills!

Featured image by Markus Hillgärtner, http://www.markushillgaertner.de / CC BY-SA

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