Bill Moeller Commentary: Remembering a Musical Gift to Our Community


I've been surrounded by music from the womb on.

My mother had a beautiful singing voice and my dad had taught himself to play enough different instruments to fill this page. OK, so that's an exaggeration. But you get the idea. Need I remind anyone that I was once a local evening disc jockey for a dozen or so years until politics eventually got in the way? 

So it's not unreasonable to learn that when I decided to use my morning hours to gain a little knowledge, I chose to take classes at Centralia College and that included a music class directed by Kenneth Kimball, who had already been teaching there since 1955. 

While I was raised in a home with an old player piano, in later life I became more interested in jazz, the way it was being played back near the end of the last century. I was particularly intrigued by the way it was only being played by Black musicians at the time. 

A book on that subject was released back in 1993 titled "Jackson Street After Hours." It tells the story of the development of jazz in the central district of Seattle. During World War II, soldiers from Fort Lewis were prohibited from entering that area for any reason and military police were stationed where they could make darned sure that nobody did. 

Segregation was still in full force back then. I purchased a copy of that book as soon as I was aware of its existence. In thumbing through it, I couldn't help but believe that the wall between races might be ready to come down when I found a picture that showed a young white lad playing a piano whose name was listed as Kenny Kimball, surrounded, apparently, by musicians from the University of Washington. 

Now, could this have been the same person who later became the music director of Centralia College back when I was an adult student later in the 1960s? Yep. You couldn't keep him away from good, strong music, even back then. And, conversely, you couldn't keep Black musicians from being able to appreciate Kenny's talent when they heard it. 

He, early, had begun to make friends of these fellow musicians, many of whom would later become known worldwide. Quincy Jones, Jimmie Lunceford and Ray Charles are just a few of the musical legends who were friends of Kenny. 

His musical future didn't occur immediately for him, though. It was 1953, after the end of World War II. The Army's drafting wasn't completed, though, and he was called to service. After the completion of the usual military training, he was shipped over to France, where he was stationed at NATO's cryptography room outside of Paris. While attending a concert in Paris, he had the good fortune to meet two ladies. 

The first one was Nadia Boulang, internationally known for her teaching of musical composition. For instance, when George Gershwin came to her for instruction, she's said to have told him that he didn't need any help — to continue what he was already known for, or words to that effect. 

The other lady he met was Audrey Goodwin, who after not too long a time, changed that last name to Kimball. The result? For our area, a musical gift for the community and his students.

You may look forward to some examples of that in a second column about Kenneth sometime in the near future. It's difficult for an older person such as myself to realize that it's now been 20 years since he passed away, but his impact lives on. 

Ask any of his former students or friends.


Bill Moeller is a former entertainer, mayor, bookstore owner, city council member, paratrooper and pilot living in Centralia. He can be reached at