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Union Square Street Performers


"On a good day, in good voice, I can be heard four blocks away."
-- Robert Close

San Francisco's bustling Union Square is home to some of the Bay Area's most tenacious musicians. Earning their income by entertaining passersby, these performers have adapted themselves to the tricky business of making one's living on the street. In "Street Art," Spark takes a stroll downtown to check out a few of the hardest-working artists in the city.

Opera singers Robert Close and Litz Plummer are downtown mainstays that set up shop at the end of Maiden Lane, a pedestrian walkway at the edge of Union Square. Close began singing on the street in 1998, at the end of a six-year stint with "Phantom of the Opera." Despondent and frustrated that his talents were not being exercised on more challenging material, Close began singing on the streets for the adulation and dollars of bystanders. He chose his spot on Maiden Lane for its acoustics, which allow him to project his powerful tenor up to four blocks away.

In search of work after moving to San Francisco three years ago from North Carolina, Plummer found Close by following his voice. She offered her services as a soprano, and the two have been singing together since. It is not an easy gig -- many times the two wonder if they will earn enough money to support themselves -- but it allows them to practice their craft before an admiring audience.

Across the square, in front of the much acclaimed A.C.T.'s Geary Theater, Earl Gadsden and his singing group, Bay City Luv, belt out gospel tunes for the throngs of theatergoers before and after the A.C.T. performances. Gadsden has been singing gospel for more than 30 years, ever since he was an altar boy in his church in South Carolina. He moved to San Francisco in 1996 and, finding like-minded musicians, assembled an a cappella group to perform gospel on the streets. For Gadsden, gospel is more than a way to raise a few dollars: Every now and then, everything comes together, and the music connects all those assembled in a common bond.

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