nbeknownst to the people of Sarasota, this homeless veteran in Florida was actually a fully fledged musician. Nobody knew of his talent, until the local government’s project to bring more music to the community came like a godsend.
Donald Gould, in his 50s, majored in music in college. He played the clarinet for the U.S. Marine Corps and is adept on the drums. In fact, “from the piccolo all the way down to the tuba,” he explains in a street interview with a few young people who had stopped to appreciate his playing, the veteran says he “had to learn how to play every instrument.”
Though he learned how to play the piano in his youth, those skills never left him many decades later.
It just so happened that Sarasota Keys Piano Project, established by the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County, wheeled in a few pianos around downtown Sarasota for the public to play and appreciate more live music as part of an interactive public art project.
Gould, originally from Michigan, saw the painted pianos rolled out, and tried his hand on one.
As the shaggy-haired homeless man, wearing nothing but an old singlet and a pair of jeans, sat down before the sidewalk piano to play Styx’s “Come Sail Away” one day in 2015, the sight naturally caught the attention of passersby, who stopped to film the impromptu street performance. A crowd soon formed, and Gould’s music career took off from there with the help of the cellphone footage taken that day of his performance, including an interview that racked up almost 3 million views.
Gould had been homeless on and off for 6–7 years at that stage. He had been laid off from work and was without an income. Little did he know, his life was about to make a complete turnaround thanks to that performance.
News of a homeless “piano man” spread in no time. Many people wanted to help him to get off the streets and further his musical talent. A local barber cut his hair free of charge, and the community rallied behind him in the form of a GoFundMe page, in which $40,000 was raised.
The adept pianist started receiving job offers, including an offer to play the National Anthem at a San Francisco 49ers game before 70,000 NFL spectators.
Since the video of him playing piano as a homeless man went viral, he hasn’t been homeless since.
Not only did the video help him get back on his feet again, but he was able to reunite with his son, his only immediate family, as his wife died in 1998. Due to substance abuse earlier on in life, which he has managed to overcome, he hadn’t seen his son since Social Services picked him up at 3 years old.
The once-homeless man not only became a sensation locally, but internationally as well, which led to finding love. Sabine Pérez, in Germany, saw the video of Gould playing on the streets, and reached out to him.