The city of Sarasota, Fla., has a project called “Sarasota Keys,” which installs lovely old upright pianos in public places where anyone can play. One day last week, a homeless man sat down at one of these sidewalk pianos at a public art exhibit and started playing the Styx’s “Come Sail Away.” Passersby took notice, pulling out smartphones to capture the moment and dollar bills to thank the musician.
Donald Gould, 51, a scrawny man of “cave man” appearance with scraggly hair and unkempt beard, kept his eyes on the keys and his music filled Main Street in downtown Sarasota, Fla.
Gould, or “Boone” as he is known around town, said he only wanted to earn a few bucks. A week later, video of his impromptu performance has been viewed more than 7.5 million times on YouTube and more than 5 million times on Facebook, with the videographer, Aroar Natasha, writing: “This homeless man now has the opportunity to be something other than ‘just a nuisance’ to all the people downtown. Just took my breath away. Wow.”
He has since gotten a haircut and a shave. He has been set up in temporary housing and been offered an account with donations that have hit $35,000. He has been been awarded a full scholarship to finish his college degree. And he has been reunited with his son.
“I was thinking I could just put my hat on the piano and make a couple dollars and get tips,” he told WWSB-TV. “I didn’t expect it to jump out to this.”
There are many missing links in Gould’s story. It’s unclear when and how he became homeless. He acknowledges having a drug and alcohol problem but it’s uncertain when that started. There seems little doubt, however, that he’s got some musical talent.
Gould picked up the clarinet as a child and played for years. He said he played while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps. “My music took me around the world before I was 21,” he told WOOD-TV.
Soon after his service, he went home to Michigan to study music at Spring Arbor University. “I took music theory and ear training, and I had to learn how to play every instrument from the piccolo down to the tuba,” he told WWSB-TV. “I can write parts like a handbook.” He said his dream was to teach but, three years later, he ran out of tuition money.
His drug and alcohol addiction took hold. His wife died. His then 3-year-old son, Donny, was taken away. But in the days after Gould became an Internet celebrity, he told WFLA-TV he hoped all the attention would help him find his boy.
“Every day it’s painful,” he told the news station early last week. “There’s not a day that goes by that they took him that I ain’t thought about him.”
— Inside Edition (@InsideEdition) July 3, 2015
On Tuesday, WFLA-TV in Florida and WOOD-TV in Michigan coordinated a call between Gould and his now 18-year-old son, who lives in Michigan.
“Donny, is that you?” Gould said.
“That’s me,” Donny replied.
“I’ve waited for this moment for a lot of years,” Gould said. “I’m sorry I wasn’t able to be there for you, son.” Gould still struggles with drug and alcohol abuse, WOOD-TV reported.
“I just hoped you’d get your act cleaned up so we could see each other still,” Donny said.
“I hope to make that happen one of these days soon,” Gould replied.
Gould said he plans to check into a rehab facility on Wednesday.
“I did get a couple of tears in my eyes just knowing he was out there and just knowing he knew he had a son out there and that he was looking for me,” Donny told WOOD-TV.
And Spring Arbor University says it’s giving him a scholarship to help him finish his education.
“We want to do the right thing for him,” Malachi Crane, SAU’s vice president for enrollment and marketing, told Michigan Live. “He’s obviously had a lot of trials in his life. Sometimes you just need a break.
“If he still has a passion for music education, we want to do everything we can to help him.”
Gould said the instant fame and the hand-outs that came along with it took him by surprise.
Very overwhelming, can’t believe it, never thought it would happen,” he told WTVT-TV.