A homeless man in Sarasota, Florida, is going wildly viral after shocking people with his incredible musical skills.
One passerby, Aurore Henry, took notice of the bearded mystery man as he sat at the piano effortlessly playing a beautiful rendition of Styx’s “Come Sail Away.” She was so impressed with his talents that she uploaded the video of his sidewalk serenade to her Facebook page where it now has a whopping 2.5 million views in just two days.
“We went outside to chat and we saw him playing and it was so phenomenal that I got my phone out to start recording it,” Henry, 34, of Suffield, Connecticut, told ABC News. “Obviously I had no idea this would become such a thing. I put it on Facebook and I saw a few people share it right away.”
She explained in the video’s caption that Sarasota had “installed ‘public pianos’ throughout downtown” as part of the Sarasota Keys Piano Project, which places donated pianos along bustling sidewalks.
“This homeless man now has the opportunity to be something other than 'just a nuisance' to all the people downtown,” she wrote. “Just took my breath away. Wow.”
He’s been taking the Internet’s breath away ever since, his special talent spreading like wildfire across social media, ultimately gaining the attention of local ABC affiliate WWSB who tracked the man down.
His name is Donald Gould. The 51-year-old says he began playing clarinet when he was just a kid, which led him to play the instrument in the U.S. Marine Corps. When he got out of the service, Donald explained that he wanted to teach music, so he studied music education at Spring Arbor University in Michigan where he was originally from.
"I took music theory and ear training, and I had to learn how to play every instrument from the piccolo down to the tuba,” Gould told WWSB. “I can write parts like a handbook."
Unfortunately, he ran out of money just three credits shy of graduating and instead worked odd jobs while starting a family. But that was just the beginning of a downward spiral.
In 1998, Gould’s wife died unexpectedly.
"They sat me down, and they told me what had happened, that my wife had passed away, and I just lost it man," he recalled.
That’s when he hit rock bottom. Gould started struggling with substance abuse which caused Social Services to take his son, who was only 3-years-old at the time.
He eventually made his way to Florida where he still tries to keep in touch with his musical roots, entertaining passerby with his talented tunes playing anything from Billy Joel to Bach.
“It’s sad,” Henry said of the gifted Gould. “He cleary has some substance abuse problems and whatnot, but that still flows out of him.”
The following day after taking her initial video, Henry ran into Gould again. She was thrilled for the opportunity to learn more about him and to tell him just how many people were touched online by his music.
“We talked a little bit about where he got his music background, what his life has been like,” she explained. “It was really nice. The look on his face when we told him about the video, someone had already told him they had seen it online, and he just looked stricken. He’s very modest. He was like, ‘Oh you know, that’s really nice. I don’t really know what to think about that.’”
Now after years of living off the streets, there could finally be hope.
A local restaurant named Surf Shack is offering to give Gould an audition to play in their piano bar.
“Yeah it is true. We’re looking to arrange it,” said the owner of the restaurant, Steve Bishop. “We call it a New York-style piano bar. It’s got a balcony that seats about 50 and a nightclub inside. We do live piano music just about every night. We’ve been doing auditions for local people and we heard about this gentleman and we’re trying to arrange it. We’re in the early phases here but we are trying to do our homework to touch base with him. Hopefully we’re able to work this out and do some good for him.”
Henry hopes Gould’s story helps shed some positive light on the homeless community, especially around the Sarasota area.
“I hope this humanizes the homeless a little more,” she said. “I think it’s important to recognize that what the people on the streets really need is a purpose and a sense of belonging. And that’s what Donald is getting."