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Two years ago, Sal Salomon was living in a homeless shelter. He approached Sting’s voice coach, Karen Nimereala, and told her his story — she gave Sal free lessons. Tonight he will appear around the world in a 60-second commercial during the WE LOVE NYC: The Homecoming Concert. The sad twist is that despite the TV paycheck and a recent GoFundMe he cannot find a home in New York City.
Sal is a child of 1970s Hell’s Kitchen. He was brought up in an era where the Westies still had a significant hold on the area, and as he puts it: “you got to know the Irish mob pretty well and I wound up getting in trouble at an early age.” Sal went to prison as a young man; spent a year in a homeless shelter; had 3 brothers, his father and mother die in a 7-month period — he’s had a tough time.
Those lessons with Nimereala set him on a new path. “I was still in the homeless shelter. I let her know my situation and that I wanted to sing in the streets. When I tested out, she said ‘you have an amazing voice’. I always thought that I sucked. She told me: ‘Not only you don’t suck, you have one of the most powerful voices I’ve heard’,” he recalled. “She gave me four lessons. She taught me how to breathe, how to push my larynx down and then she taught me a little bit of Italian, how to pronounce it. She just did it for free. It was funny being in a homeless shelter and then going to a penthouse in Central Park South for voice lessons.”
Busking got him out of the homeless system and he found a place to stay in Hell’s Kitchen. Then, 6 weeks ago, came another crisis when his landlord gave him notice to move by the end of August — and a back injury made it impossible for him to leave his apartment. A friend, Catie Savage, set up a GoFundMe to try to help Sal with the costs of finding a new place.
The appeal was featured by Nicholas Heller and his Instagram account @newyorknico. He recorded Sal singing at 57th and 9th (a corner made famous by Sting’s album of the same name) and in 24 hours he raised over $10,000.
“It all happened so fast. Nico changes lives and creates miracles like an angel,” Sal said. “Anything can happen in the blink of an eye, with the right help. I sat with Catie and I was crying. I’m looking at the GoFundMe page and it’s like $10, $10, $10. It’s not like somebody sending $2,000. New Yorkers are so kind.”
Then Sal got a call from a casting director who had been looking for New York buskers for a set of Expedia commercials to air on CNN’s live broadcast of the Homecoming NYC concert in Central Park today. Sal’s name got put forward for selection. “He called me and said ‘congratulations. I don’t know if you have a guardian angel but everyone in the selection meeting when they were asked to give us their selection said Sal!’ — I got the chills, man,” said Sal.
He spent last Saturday filming in Dumbo with a crew of 150 people. “I had a guy wiping my brow, someone moving my chair, a lady getting my food. It was crazy,” he told us. “I sang New York New York, we did three takes. We did some more filming at a pizza joint — it was fun.”
Sal’s TV appearance will help get his Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin musical repertoire in front of the world — and the paycheck will help secure his future.
However, he still has one more big challenge. “I’ve got to move out of my apartment in 10 days’ time — and I’ve still not got a place to live. I’m a busker, I don’t have a credit score, I keep on getting turned down,” he said. “It’s getting to the point where I’ll have to put my stuff in storage at the end of the month and go find a park bench.”