Donald Gould becomes a star, thanks to the public pianos in the Florida city's downtown area

By Tim Nudd
July 02, 2015 08:00 AM

He was only hoping to make some tips. But now, homeless man Donald Gould is an bona fide Internet star – and he might just score a regular piano-playing gig in Sarasota, Florida.

A video of Gould, 51, playing a cover of Styx’s “Come Sail Away” on a Main Street sidewalk went viral on Facebook in recent days. And no wonder – the woman who uploaded it, Aroar Natasha, knew she was seeing something special.

“Sarasota installed ‘public pianos’ throughout downtown,” she wrote in the video’s caption. “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.”

More than 3 million views later, Gould – who goes by the nickname “Boone” – is a Sarasota celebrity.

“I was thinking I could just put my hat on the piano and make a couple dollars and get tips,” he tells local station WWSB-TV. “I didn’t expect it to jump out to this.”

Gould typically plays a five-song set, including Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” and Bach’s “Toccata.” “I might not do the whole song complete as it was recorded originally, but I [know] enough to touch people out here – ’cause I’ve touched a lot of people apparently,” he says.

A former U.S. Marine who played clarinet in the Corps, he originally wanted to be a music teacher. But after his wife died in 1998, he says he “just lost it,” developed an addiction problem and lost his 3-year-old son to Social Services.

o But this sudden attention could be his redemption. A local piano bar has said it is willing to give Gould a tryout as a potential act. And perhaps even better, Gould is giving young people musical tips.

“I play the ‘Heart and Soul’ bass. I say, ‘Just hit the white keys, you can’t screw up,’ ” he says. “It doesn’t matter how they play, if they play crappy or good, I always clap for them. I’m a nurturer, I’m a teacher.”