The organ grinder was a musical novelty street performer of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century, and refers to the operator of a street organ.
Period literature often represents the grinder as a gentleman of ill repute or as an unfortunate representative of the lower classes. Newspaper reporters would sometimes describe them cynically or jocularly as minor extortionists who were paid to keep silent, given the repetitious nature of the music. Later depictions would stress the romantic or picturesque aspects of the activity. Whereas some organ grinders were itinerants or vagabonds, many were recent immigrants who chose to be street performers in order to support their families. Those who actually owned their barrel organs were more likely to take care of them and pursue the "profession" more seriously. A few organ grinders still remain, perhaps most famously Joe Bush in the United States.