Kimo Smith, organist and pianist, is an associate professor of music at La Sierra University. He began his association with LSU in 1973, when it was known as Loma Linda University Riverside and then continued as a member of the faculty when LSU was established as a separate school in 1990.
Since that time he has served as Director of Keyboard Studies and Director of the University Studies Program, as well as music department chair (2003-2010). He also serves as organist at Loma Linda University Church in nearby Loma Linda and at the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, where he also serves as associate director of music. He has served at both churches for over thirty years and was honored in 2009 on the 30th anniversary of the beginning of his service at the LLU Church.
Kimo was born in Hawaii. From his earliest years he displayed an unusual musical talent and at age four started piano lessons. He began playing regularly for church services at twelve and by the time of his graduation from Hawaiian Mission Academy in 1970 was widely-known throughout the islands for his ability as a pianist and organist, having won in several competitions.
He attended the University of Hawaii in 1970 and then transferred to Loma Linda University, Riverside Campus, now La Sierra University, in 1971, where he studied with Donald Vaughn for two years. During this time his study was supported in part by winning three scholarships from the Riverside-San Bernardino and the Orange County chapters of the American Guild of Organists (AGO) in 1972-1974. In 1974 he was second-place winner in the National Collegiate Organ Competition of the Music Teachers National Conference (MTNA).
In 1975 Smith earned a B.Mus. magna cum laude in organ performance at the University of Southern California and two years later completed an M.Mus., studying with Ladd Thomas. On both occasions he received the organ department’s Outstanding Achievement Award and while at USC was elected to membership in its chapter of Pi Kappa Lambda, a national music honor society. He completed a D.M.A. in organ performance at the University of California at Los Angeles in 1997, where he studied with Thomas Harmon.
Smith is a frequent organ soloist, being featured at numerous events, and has concertized widely as a solo artist throughout the U.S. and in Europe, Asia, and South America. He has appeared as a guest artist with several Southern California orchestras and choral ensembles, including the Glendale Symphony, Riverside County Philharmonic Orchestra, William Hall Chorale, and the Los Angeles Master Chorale.
In 2010 he collaborated with Grant Gershon and the Los Angeles Master Chorale on a recording of the works of Nico Muhly. It was the chorale’s first recording in Walt Disney Concert Hall and their first on the famed Decca label.
He was a soloist with the Redlands Symphony Orchestra on October 11, 2003, in a concert that celebrated the restoration of the Casavant organ in the Redlands Memorial Chapel. That celebratory concert featured him in a performance of Samuel Barber's Toccata Festival for Organ and Orchestra and Camille Saint-Saens' Organ Symphony.
He also accompanies extensively, an activity that has taken him throughout the United States and Europe with touring groups and solo artists, and performs frequently with chamber ensembles.
In October 2010 Kimo was struck by bacteria (neocrotizing fascitis) in his upper left leg. The Adventist community in Southern California united in prayer for his survival and recovery since the condition is often fatal if left untreated. The question uppermost in everyone’s mind was, “If he recovered, would he be able to play the organ again?”
He was released from the LLU ICU unit December 5. Eight days later Jen Engevik, a member of the LLU Church and admirer of Smith and his organ playing, posted the following at projectbebold.com:
I am currently writing from Gothenburg, Sweden, where yesterday I spoke to my mom on the phone, who is back in the States. She tearfully related a story regarding the Candlelight Service at the Loma Linda University Church last Saturday evening. At the end of the beautiful Christmas concert that included a full orchestra, seasonal songs and inspirational messages, the closing song began with a spotlight on Cellist Jeff Kaatz playing the first few notes of “Silent Night.”
“It began softly,” my mom narrated. “And then all of a sudden an organ sweetly joined in… the next thing I knew, the spotlight shifted and there was Kimo playing with his head held high.” Shocked, the crowd jumped to its feet and shouts of joy could be heard unlike any time my mom could remember. Tears ran down faces. “I was so very moved,” said mom. “I just cried and cried.”
Kimo slowly rose to his feet at the end of his performance and the crowd cheered with everything they had. He then gingerly left the stage and the show ended leaving spirits full and humanity hopeful.
Smith married Cheryl A. Jensen in 1982. She is a 1971 music graduate of LSU and an accomplished and active professional musician who has conducted the choir program at several schools, including Loma Linda Academy and several choirs at the LLU Church. They have three adult children, Victor, Valerie, and Mallory and reside in Loma Linda.
Sources: Interview with Kimo Smith, 5 October 2005; Pacific Union Recorder, 30 April 1970, 4 and 23 June 1975, 5; Loma Linda University Today, 9 November 2009, 3. La Sierra University website biography (2013); ProjectbeBold.com; California Marriage Index, Ancestory.com; LSU music department Hole Notes, Fall 1994; Fred Bock Music Companies website biography (2013); Multiple online sources; personal knowledge..