Homeless Florida Vet Becomes Overnight Musical Sensation, Community Rallies In Support

A group in Sarasota, Florida took on a project last year in which they placed six pianos on the streets of the city for public use. The “Sarasota Keys” public art project was launched by the Sarasota Arts and Culture Alliance and has been extremely well received. The six pianos were painted by local artists, each having a unique look. You can see more about that process here.

However, this story really isn’t about that amazing project (and it is an amazing one) – it’s about the man we now know because of that project.

“Boone” meet everyone, everyone, “Boone.”

Meet Donald Gould, known as “Boone” on the streets – a homeless vet who is achieving internet fame after a video of him playing a cover of Styx’s “Come Sail Away” on one of the public pianos in downtown Sarasota has gone viral. Sarasota’s ABC 7 met Gould to learn about his story.

Gould told reporters:

“I was thinking I could just put my hat on the piano and make a couple dollars and get tips. I didn’t expect it to jump out to this.”

Donald Gould’s story is important. The U.S. Marine Corps vet started playing clarinet when he was a child. His musical abilities then took him to playing in the Marine Corps. After serving his country, he went on to Spring Arbor University in his home state of Michigan to study music education with the goal of teaching. But, as many other people in our country, he was unable to afford the tuition and his educational plans fell short three semesters from graduation.

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As it does, life moved forward. He began working and started a family. Then tragedy struck.

In 1998, Donald Gould’s wife unexpectedly died. That heartache turned to despair and like many, Gould turned to substances to ease the pain. He lost his three-year-old son to the state.

Eventually, Gould made his way to Florida, where he lives homeless on the streets of Sarasota.

He and fellow musician Paul Lonardo play music on Main Street. He says sometimes children will sit next to him at the piano and in those few seconds he gets to fulfill his dream of passing on a love of music to the next generation.

He told reporters:

“I play the ‘Heart and Soul’ bass, I say ‘just hit the white keys, you can’t screw up.’ 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.”

Watch “Boone’s” performance here:

Every homeless person has a name and a story.

I’m not sure there is any story that exemplifies just how HUMAN the homeless are more than Donald Gould’s story. Often, people dismiss the homeless on the streets as “bums” and “drug addicts” and “mentally ill,” as if any of those things make them less worthy of dignity, respect, and care.

How many “Boones” are out there? Men and women who have experienced the most devastating of life events, who have fallen down only to have the strong foot of humanity trample them, making it nearly impossible to stand back up.

Sarasota, Florida was once named the meanest city for the homeless in the United States. This ranking was mainly driven by the fact that the city banned outside overnight sleeping in public or private property, which only added to the concerning criminalization of the homeless. While this city may no longer enforce this law, many others in our country have similar laws that are followed.

The National Coalition for the Homeless states on their website:

Unfortunately, over the past 25 years, cities across the country have penalized people who are forced to carry out life-sustaining activities on the street and in public spaces; despite the fact these communities lack adequate and affordable housing and shelter space. Ultimately, many of these measures are designed to move homeless persons out of sight, and at times out of a given city.

Hopefully people like Donald Gould will continue to grab our attention – humanizing those that we dehumanize and criminalize. Homeless people are people, too. The sooner they are recognized as such, the sooner we may be able to tackle an issue that impacts the most vulnerable in our society.

The good news for Gould is, one local establishment is considering hiring him to play in their business. His love for music still may just set him free.

Listen to him tell his story via ABC 7:

Featured image via YouTube video screen capture