Park busker to Grammy winner! Celebrating Ramblin’ Jack Elliot

February 10 2017

To celebrate the 59th Annual Grammy Awards, we are taking a look at Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, famous folk musician, frequent busker in Washington Square Park, and two-time Grammy winner for Best Traditional Folk Album in 1995 and Best Traditional Blues Album in 2010!

Ramblin’ Jack (left), Washington Square Park, 1954                       Courtesy of Dubinsky/Woody Guthrie Publications

Ramblin’ Jack Elliott was born in Brooklyn in 1931. Elliott craved the country from an early age, and ran away from home to join a Rodeo at age fifteen to escape the path of becoming a surgeon like his father. Eventually Elliott was found and returned home, but the roots of folk music stuck with him, and he began to teach himself to play guitar.

Although he was back in NYC, Elliott found like-minded musicians that would meet up and play music in Washington Square Park on Sundays. These music sessions became sources for songwriting, band forming, networking and learning, enticing Elliott to make return visits every Sunday and earning him the nickname “citybillie.”

In the Spring of 1954, Elliott and his friend and mentor Woody Guthrie busked in Washington Square Park, making $11.60 that they spent on beer to celebrate at the nearby San Remo on MacDougal and Bleecker. The last song of Elliott’s album “I Stand Alone,” is called “Woody’s Last Ride,” which tells a story of Elliott and Guthrie playing in Washington Square Park and making enough money to drive to California, and reach their destination with fifty cents in their pockets.

Ramblin’ Jack was one of the musicians who helped build the rich folk history of Greenwich Village, and his busking blues helped create the street performing traditions that make Washington Square Park the place we love and cherish today.