For years Donald Gould was just another scruffy face among the homeless that populated Sarasota, Florida. His straw-like hair and expansive beard hid kind eyes and a surprising talent.
His clothes hung loosely on his leathery arms, and his cap doubled as a container for the tips he earned while playing the piano.
Fortunately for Gould, originally from Michigan, the Sarasota Keys Piano Project had worked to get several pianos out on the streets for passersby to play.
He had at one time been classically trained in piano. It’s the kind of thing that burrows deep into your muscle memory, and when the tired-looking man sat down to play, magic streamed out of the piano.
Strangers were shocked at the beautiful notes flowing from the man’s grimy fingertips. One impressed stranger recorded his playing and posted it online.
Within days, millions of people had witnessed Gould’s astounding talent and wanted to know more. Who was this man? Where was he from? How could he be on the streets with the gift he had?
A GoFundMe was created, and it wasn’t long before Gould was the recipient of $40,000 and multiple job offers.
Gould was invited to play the National Anthem at the beginning of the San Francisco 49ers season. With a crowd of 75,000, it was the largest group he’d ever played for.
“It’s kind of surreal,” he said. “I was this homeless guy on the streets and the next thing you know, I’m in the national spotlight, the world spotlight.”
“While I’m performing there’s the crowd noise and there are fireworks going off, and I got earbuds in my ears but I couldn’t hear a thing of what I was playing; so, I’m just hitting the keys on the keyboard and hoping for the best.”
He was also blessed to meet a life coach named Jacqueline Bevan. She’s been helping him reassimilate and become a productive member of society again after dealing with addictions and living on the streets.
“Watching him go through everyday things and learning to live all over again and making new friends and doing positive things and just having a normal life, we’re so proud of him,” she said. “It’s amazing.”
He hasn’t forgotten those years on the street. “I looked forward to each day. I was grateful for things like hot coffee and a roof over my head.”
He even ended up making appearances on multiple television shows and landed a recording contract after he got noticed online.
The newly acquired fame hasn’t come without consequences, though. Gould still struggles with the effects of his former life, and the stress of his new life resulted in a heart attack.
He made it through, though, and has been paying it forward through organizations as a thank you to the people who helped pull him out of a dark time.
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