Who was the street musician who played his guitar in front of Ghirardelli Square?

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Ever since I was kid, and that was a few decades ago, whenever I paid a visit to Ghirardelli Square, there was a street musician on the corner in front of the steps. I know everyone reading this who as been to Ghirardelli Square knows the gentleman I am speaking of since he really was San Francisco institution. He would sit on a stool with his open guitar case at his side and would attempt to entice passersby with song and rhyme, to toss in some money. Next to his open guitar case was a propped up board in which he displayed dozens of photographs he had taken of himself through the years with visiting celebrities. His upbeat personality and ability to rhyme was a delight to watch. The last couple of times I have been there, I noticed he was no longer at the spot I have recognized him at since I first saw him in 1973. Does anyone know what happened to him? Has he moved to a new location? What is his name? Thanks for your help.

-- Michael Binetti (mbinetti@boldata.com), November 09, 2001


I don't know the name, but if you are referring to the black man who I thought was a West Indian, you may be able to find out from the management of Ghiridelli Sq. or one of the older establishments therein. If you find out, I would be delighted to know as I spent some happy times watching this wonderfully talented busker plying his trade.

-- Jack Lavin (jacklavin@telus.net), February 13, 2002.

I don't know his name, but I took a picture of him 2 years ago, when I was out there on vacation........he was a superb musician and he also has a cat named 'Spike' (the cat wears a spike collar) that sits on a blanket next to him. If you want the picture, e-mail me and I'll forward it to you. Hope this helps.

-- Doyle Sinclair (dfs2628@sbcglobal.net), June 30, 2002.

The man's name is Norbert Yancy. I hope I spelled his name correctly. I am 42 years old and have seen him since I was 13 back in 1973. Although I do not get up to the city much anymore, I did see him last week and he is still in top form.

-- Tim O'Heron (t_oheron@yahoo.com), December 04, 2002.

THANK GOD he's still around and thanks for the information. I used to live in San Jose but my wife lived in San Francisco and we used to love to see him whenever we had the chance. On a rather macabre note, I think that the city would be totally remiss in it's duties to not put a statue in his place when(or if)he finally moves to the street coner in the sky.

-- MH (winterblade@charter.net), December 04, 2002.

I have also enjoyed this entertainer on all my visits to San Francisco. I believe his name is Norbert Yancy as someone else had mentioned. I'm surprised there is no info about him on the internet. If you have a photo, please send it to me. Thanks

-- Joe Pasquariello (jpasquariello@cox.net), January 27, 2003.

Norbert Yancy is probably not found on the internet because he is copyrighted. As I said earlier, I met him when I was 13 back in 1973. He still wears the black signature hat and blue button down sweater.

Norbert Yancy is very talented in many ways. In addition to singing (and speaking) in many languages, he spent his Monday thru Friday career as a long-shoreman by day and Karate (black belt) instructor and opera singer by night.

I had the opportunity to meet then Mayor Alioto while I was talking to Norb. Norb told the Mayor that I was his cousin and then he laughed.


Tim O'Heron

-- Tim O'Heron (toheron@charter.net), March 29, 2003.

here my story when i met norbert in 1989! a dream came true and i visited san francisco. since i was a young girl i dreamt of beeing in this wonderful city one day. so in january 1989 i came to sfo for about 5 days. i was inpired by the tv movie "the streets of sfo" with carl malden and michael douglas. and from the first moment i loved the city and its wonderful feeling. every day i went into town to see all the sightseeing points and every evening when i went back to my friends house, i was a little happier. i always took bus to go back to their house on lionstreet. and one evening when i left the bus a black man also left the bus. he walked behind me and called: hey, you are german, arent you? and i said: yes i am, but how do you know? and he said i would look like one. he was smiling and we had a short conversation. he wore a hat with lots of buttons on it and he told me he would speak about five languages.i wouldnt believe but he started to talk german. just a view sentenses but it was real good and we continued in english. he told me to be a kind of a kung fu (karate) teacher and that he is known in many parts of the world and i wouldnt believe again. so he took many parts of several newspapers from all over out of his backpack. it was just amazing. and than he told me he is a musician on ghiradelli square. he plays guitar and would be there every day. at least we said bye and he gave me his card with his name. but i dont really know if i still have it somewhere. but i remember his first name "Norbert". unfortunatly i didnt go back the other day to ghiradelli square to see him. but about 10 years later we had a kind of a show on tv about san francisco and i could not believe it again. they showed and talked about a musician on ghiradelli spuare. it was Norbert. a funny guy from san francisco. i am sure he is still there. best regards Nicole

-- Nicole Gillessen (RGillessen57@aol.com), May 09, 2003.

I completely agree Norbert should get a statue, but only in another thirty years or so. I originally met him in '78 as Norbert De Casanova, but almost every time I've been to San Francisco since, he's been there at his corner. If I remember corectly his last name is spelled Yancey, but I'm not sure of that. My best story of him dates from 1989, when we started talking - of course, HE started - and I told him I was from Cologne, Germany. Of course he'd caught on to the "German" bit anyway, but he surprised me by telling me he was going to be in Cologne to record with the radio station WDR a month later. Having until then only seen him there at the street corner in San Francisco, I wasn't entirely sure whether he was bullshitting me, but I left him my phone number and told him to call when he got there. I'll admit I was surprised when he actually did call, and we agreed to meet in the Pedestrian Zone of the Old Town in Cologne. When I got there, he was already sitting there, with his guitar, playing and chatting people up for some money - in German, English or whatever, those of you who know him will get the picture. It was summer, and as we were walking through the Old Town, he would comment on the numerous street performers there, what each of them was doing right or wrong. The next day, he called me from the Polish Embassy to ask me something about visas for Poland. I didn't hear from him again until two weeks later when his picture appeared in the social pages of the newspaper, the Kolner Stadtanzeiger, together with then Polish Premier Lech Walesa! He'd already told me about his job as a crane operator in the East Bay shipyards and his Karate School, so by now there's not much about him I wouldn't believe. By the way, the last time I saw him was December 2000. I was visiting San Francisco (this time from New York) with an Italian friend of mine, and of course he started singing Italian songs and chatting her up in Italian as well. I certainly hope to see him next time I'm in San Francisco.

-- Klaus van Leyen (vanleyen@attbi.com), May 27, 2003.

Hello Michael and all...

This is so neat to read all the people that know of Norbert Yancy! He is now my friend and neighbor as I live right next to Ghirardelli Square. I knew of him through my father visiting here in the 70's and it was so neat for me to meet him in person when I moved here last March. since this is my neighborhood, I go down and see him on weekends and hang with him on the corner while he entertains. He is a delightful and talented man. He's supposed to be on Jay Leno and Good Morning America sometime soon.

I have some pictures old an new that I was going to scan next week. If anyone wants a copy, please let me know. I'll copy this page of notes and show him. He'll be delighted. Last Christmas I was getting words to songs for him off the internet. He learned Let It Snow for me and it was a true holiday treat for me.

So, good cheer to all. Our weather is great so come visit San Francisco! Fleet week is October 10 - 12 ... Norbert and Blue Angels all in one weekend - what a treat!

Smiles from San Francisco, Ellen

-- Ellen Falcinelli (efalcinelli@aol.com), August 15, 2003.

To All,

I was just in SF over the weekend and say him. He is the greatest. If your feeling down he'll cheer you up. He said he's only there on weekends now. He also just got back from a taping of the Sharron Osborne show, to air in December. I also got some pictures of him. I trying to get an mpg but he stopped playing to talk to a friend. Maybe next time.

Wm Allfrey

-- Wm Allfrey (proclner@yahoo.com), November 26, 2003.

Norbert (Dynamite) Yancey may be the single best thing about San Francisco. Just saw him today. The guy is ageless, something like what you'd expect in a Tibetian Tulku. He is one of the happiest people and most spirited thatr I have ever met. Someone like Lawrence Weschler should write a book on him. I'll bet that there are tons of stories of people who've known him that would string together into quite a tale. I don't know him personally except to see him on "his corner" like a buddha for the past thirty years. Someone once said that there are only 24 real people in the world at any given time. If so, I believe he may be one of them----

-- Lydia S. (perceptual123@aol.com), March 08, 2004.

Would love to have a CD by him. Anyone know if one is available?

-- mary duncan (nextmary2@aol.com), March 08, 2004.

Sorta' related..... I saw a musician in SF, near the waterfront & Fisherman's Pier..... I never made it back to buy his CD and was wondering if anyone could ID him ?

He played the organ (or synthesizer), black guy, had a partner on electric guitar. He played in the little plaza area on the water side of the street.

Any ideas ???

Thanks, Brian

-- Brian Smith (locadva@hotmail.com), March 11, 2004.

Well lookee here. I just stumbled upon this page as the result of running a "search" on -- you guessed it -- Norbert Yancy. The reason? I am a long standing Yancy cult member sucked in by the spirituality that IS Norbert. I first came across him in the early 70's and was just recently, yet again, wondering what he was up to. I even wrote a song about Norbert entitled, brilliantly enough, "The Legend of Norbert Yancy." It will finally be on my upcoming CD, "Living in Limbo." I know this sounds like a big commercial but I have been mesmerized by him for decades and I do have these things happening so I thought I would mention it, just to show how he has influenced me. By the way, I always had a dream to go back up to that corner and play my song for him. That day did happen and he sat me down in his stool, gave me his guitar to play it and walked around snapping pictures of the "event." Anyway (last commercial), if you would like more information you can visit my website -- www.spankycheese.com -- and you will learn more than you ever wanted to know about me.

Thanks for reading.

-- Bruce A. Teitell (teitellmgt@aol.com), July 02, 2004.

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