The Piano Guys, a group of four musicians, will be performing at Donald Trump’s inaugural gala this evening.
Formed in 2010, this group consists of Jon Schmidt, Steven Sharp Nelson, Paul Anderson, and Al van der Beek. They played at the “The Make America Great Again! Welcome Celebration” at the Lincoln Memorial on Thursday night, delivering a message of unity and singing, “It’s going to be okay.” President Donald Trump seemed to be a fan of the performance, shaking the hands of each band member at the conclusion of the show.
The Piano Guys will be returning for another performance at the official inaugural ball tonight.
So who are these four musicians, and how did they come to perform for Donald Trump? Here’s what you need to know about them.
1. They Gained a Following on YouTube
The Piano Guys were able to build up a following through their YouTube videos; their channel currently has 5.3 million subscribers. This means they are #71 on the list of top music channels on YouTube.
Their first YouTube video was posted on March 16th, 2010; it’s an original song written by Jon Schmidt. Their next video came a year later, in February 2011; this was another original tune called “Dumb Song,” again written by Schmidt.
“Inspired by a tuna-fish commercial, Jon wrote this in high school, age 15, and it has followed him like a curse ever since he gets hate mail if he doesn’t play it in his shows,” they wrote in their YouTube description.
Although they have written a number of original songs, many of the group’s most popular videos are covers. Their biggest hit is a cover of A Thousand Years by Christina Perri, which currently has 86 million views. Their Let It Go cover also has 70 million views, and they have covered many other songs from musicians like Adele, One Direction and Coldplay.
Outside of YouTube, The Piano Guys have released six studio albums, the most recent of which came out in October 2016.
2. They Are From St. George, Utah
The Piano Guys got started seven years ago in St. George, Utah. As the group describes it, Paul Anderson was running a piano store called The Piano Guys and was looking for a creative way to sell more pianos. He decided to launch a YouTube channel, and his idea was to create some music videos that featured his store’s pianos; if those videos went viral, he hoped, that would drive some traffic to the shop.
Meanwhile, Jon Schmidt was performing as a solo pianist, and he was in St. George for a concert. Schmidt asked Anderson if he could practice on one of his pianos, and while he was there, Anderson pitched his YouTube idea and got Schmidt on board.
From there, Jon Schmidt recruited his friend and fellow musician Steven Sharp Nelson. Finally, Al van der Beek, a neighbor of Steven Sharp Nelson, just happened to have a studio in his house, so he joined as well.
“There are so many coincidences that the summation of each circumstance transcends ‘happenstance,'” the group says on its website. “We do not take credit for our successes. We cannot. To do so would defy reason. We thank God, our families, and the people who have supported us by sharing our videos, purchasing our music, and encouraging us through comments and messages.”
3. Jon Schmidt’s 21-Year-Old Daughter Died Last Year
You may recognize the name The Piano Guys from a news story a few months ago; in late October, Jon Schmidt’s 21-year-old daughter, Annie Schmidt, went missing, and he took to social media to ask his fans for help find her; she was last seen leaving for a hike at Munra Point in Portland, Oregon.
Sadly, Annie’s remains were found at the bottom of a cliff on the Munra Point trail in early November.
Annie and Jon shared a love of music; she performed at one of her father’s concerts when she was six years old and appeared in some of their videos. At the time of her death, she was studying music production and technology.
“Annie truly desired to come closer to God,” Jon Schmidt wrote on his Facebook page in November. “She also hoped to lose herself in loving others. She had a wonderful gift and ability to reach out to people…to make them realize their value.”
4. All Four of Them Are Mormon
Though they only occasionally perform religious songs, Jon Schmidt, Steven Sharp Nelson, Paul Anderson, and Al van der Beek are all Mormon.
Jon Schmidt says that his grandparents on both sides of the family joined the Mormon church in Germany during World War II, according to his profile on the official Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
As a member of the Church, Schmidt participated in a mission to Norway, while Anderson went to Washington and Van Der Beek and Nelson both went to South Korea on separate occasions, according to Deseret News.
On the “Our Beliefs” page on the group’s website, they link to the official Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints website.
5. They Received Backlash When Announcing Their Participation in the Inauguration
Like just about every musician that has been booked for the inauguration of Donald Trump, The Piano Guys received backlash from their fans as soon as their performance was announced.
On January 15th, the group released a lengthy statement explaining why they decided to accept the invitation, with the underlying message being that they want to bridge barriers and transcend party politics. They never mention Donald Trump’s name, but they heavily imply that they don’t agree with some of his rhetoric.
“We abhor and decry bullying. You know that we honor our relationships with our spouses more than anything else,” they write. “You know we believe women are Divinely appointed to not only equality, but also respect and chivalrous deference. You know that in our history our ancestors were refugees, driven from their homes in fear for their lives. We empathetically embrace those now in the same situation. You know we believe in loving all people, regardless of gender, race, political affiliation, country of origin, or religious background.”
They go on to say that their music has offered the most optimism “when we’ve had the opportunity to perform for people who may not completely agree with who we are or what we stand for.” And towards the end of their statement, they say that they “don’t feel right limiting our positive message only to people that believe or act the same way we do.”