MODESTO -- Dellanora Green has been singing on the streets of downtown Modesto for money for nine years, but she never has attracted as much attention as she has recently.
Police have cited her three times in the past year for inappropriate panhandling (all but one charge has since been dropped). At the same time, supporters have paid for her to record her first CD, and she has been invited to perform Oct. 23 at the State Theatre as part of the Modesto Area Music Awards.
A fan of her music helped her get out of the El Capitan Motel, where she had been staying for years, and into a one-bedroom apartment. Other fans have given her furniture and paid some of her bills from time to time. The owners of Harvest Moon Restaurant downtown have been huge supporters, Green said.
Green, 51, started gathering supporters' signatures on a petition earlier this year when she thought she might be banned from performing on Modesto's street corners. She has collected more than 1,000 so far.
She said she's grateful for the support and was really surprised when Modesto police gave her the citations. She said she had never been cited before. "It hurt my feelings," she said. "I didn't understand it. I thought it was picking on me. A lot of people enjoy my singing."
Green is a familiar face to anyone who comes downtown. She can be seen almost any night, belting out classics like "Killing Me Softly," "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay" and "Stand By Me." She says she supports herself solely through her singing, making anywhere from $40 to $350 a day from donations. She usually has a big smile on her face and says, "God bless you," to passers-by.
The only charge remaining against her is a misdemeanor of unlawfully soliciting donations when people are in an indoor/outdoor dining area of a restaurant. The charge stems from a June 1 incident outside Serrano Social Club on J Street.
Owner Tony Serrano said in an e-mail to The Bee, "Dellanora has been a gem in downtown Modesto," and he indicated that in talking with the customer who reportedly filed the complaint, the man didn't intend to press charges.
The maximum penalty is six months in jail, but Green's attorney, Martin Baker, said it's more likely that she would face at most a fine or probation.
A similar charge involving a July 10 incident at Subway restaurant on 10th Street was dismissed Thursday at the request of the city because of insufficient evidence. Green said police rescinded her first charge in March. Tara Davis, the deputy city attorney handling the case, did not return two phone messages asking for comment.
Chris Ricci, manager of the Fat Cat Music House & Lounge, said he thinks Green is too aggressive in asking for donations for her singing.
"She comes up and gets in people's faces and asks them if they want her to sing a song," he said. "It's not how street performers traditionally hone their craft. When you see in other cities, street performers play their music and have a guitar case open, and people if they're walking by gather and give them money. They're not actively soliciting every single person who walks by, and that's what she does. For people who are down here all the time, it's a nuisance. "
Ricci said he has no problem having her sing downtown; he just doesn't like the pushiness. Ricci is co-founder of the Modesto Area Music Awards. It was not his idea to invite Green to sing at the ceremony, but he reluctantly went ahead with the plan.
Chris Murphy, also a co-founder of the MAMAs, said he wanted Green to sing at the show because he wanted to show she is a "very important part of Modesto culture. ... Modesto should wrap its arms around people with talent."
Green often performs near the Gallo Center for the Arts. Lynn Dickerson, chief executive officer at the center, said her patrons are divided about the street singer.
"There are people that really love her and think she adds to the culture downtown," Dickerson said. "I'm sort of neutral on her. I do get complaints from patrons saying it's annoying to have someone panhandling you when you go to the Gallo Center. I'm fine if she sits with her basket and they put tips in if they want to."
Baker said the city's code specifies that panhandling is illegal only in certain situations, such as at a busy intersection where it could be dangerous or where people are eating at a restaurant or waiting in line for tickets and are essentially captive audiences. He said he has told Green the rules for legal solicitation of donations and she seems willing to comply.
Baker said he understands that some people don't like Green's singing. But he said it's also important to allow her to make a living.
"We want to encourage people who are struggling to get on their feet to do more than just beg or rip copper out of people's air conditioning. As much as people are annoyed by her singing, she's out there making some people happy. She's not committing any kind of crime. She's really not hurting anyone."
Green, who was born in Fresno and raised in east Oakland, said she has been singing all her life. She came to Modesto looking for family and stayed. She said she used to take crack but has been clean and sober for three years. She can be seen daily riding her bike through Modesto and makes a point to sing every day usually at the post office on Kearney Avenue in the day and downtown at night.
"I've got to eat," she said.
John Black, director of Peer Recovery Art Project in Modesto, wanted to help Green find legal ways to make money. So he asked his friend Gordon Grotts, owner of G Cubed Studios, to help. Grotts offered to record a CD for her for free and donate the first 50 copies.
She recorded 10 songs for her CD, "Woman of the Ghetto," a cappella in three hours. They are all songs she has sung downtown. Her CD-release party is from 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at Peer Recovery's art gallery, 1222 J St. The CD will sell for $20, with Green getting 75 percent of the proceeds and the gallery getting the rest.
Black believes it's important to encourage people like Green. "Should you give up hope or build from the gifts you have?"
Bee arts writer Lisa Millegan Renner can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2313.