SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) – Video of a homeless man is going viral after he was captured playing the piano. There are seven pianos on the sidewalks in downtown Sarasota as a part of the Sarasota Keys project.
“It’s an interactive public arts project in downtown Sarasota,” says Jim Shirley, with the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County. “The whole idea is to give access to people who want to express themselves.”
51-year-old Donald Gould was playing one of those pianos in front of the Clasico Café and Bar when visitors Dylan Henry and his mother captured Gould on video. Within 24 hours, more than 500,000 people had seen the video.
“It is my passion. I just like to make people happy out there when I’m playing. I put my hat out there and sit it on top of the keyboard in hopes of making tips because I’m homeless,” Gould says.
Gould has been in Sarasota for a while. He is shocked his talent is getting so much attention. “It’s overwhelming to me. I can’t believe it. I‘m still fighting off tears. It’s unbelievable. I never thought it would come to this. I’m a clarinet player,” Gould says.
Life in a different key
Unlike Gould’s music, his life hasn’t been so beautiful. He says he is a former Marine who has struggled with drugs. He lost his wife and son several years ago.
“I had a wife pass away on me in ‘98 and I had a son and I was kind of heavy into the pill thing. They took our child away from us, and my wife took a handful of morphine pills and died. She just went to sleep.
I couldn’t keep it together and eventually social services got tired of it and they terminated my parental rights. Everyday it’s painful. There’s not a day that’s gone by since they took him from me that I haven’t thought about him. He turned 18 last August 24th.
I wish he would come and find me.”
Raffaele Perna is the owner of the Clasico. He says he wishes more could be done to help Gould.
“We are trying to control the amount of tipping that happens not because we don’t want them to be rewarded but they take the money and buy booze and whatever they buy and then they come back an hour later and they can’t even play the piano. That’s the heartbreaking part to it,” Perna says.
As for Gould, he is thankful for the attention but hopes his son sees the video and reaches out. “I’ve always loved him from the day he was born. I’m never going to stop loving him,” he says.