James Kimo Williams was born in Amityville, New York, and spent much of his childhood divided between Air Force bases, urban neighborhoods of Baltimore, and rural Mississippi on his grandparents’ sharecropper farm in North Carolina.
In May 1969, just before enlisting in the US Army and deploying to Vietnam, he attended his first major music concert: Jimi Hendrix playing at the Waikiki Bowl. He was so inspired by this concert and the music of Jimi Hendrix, that he dedicated himself to music and playing guitar. Upon returning home, he utilized the GI Bill and earned a BA in Composition from the Berklee College of Music and a masters degree in Management and Human Relations from Webster University. After 30 years of teaching, Kimo retired from Columbia College Chicago where he was an associate professor in the Management and Music Departments.
Kimo has written five string quartets and several Jazz influenced large ensemble works. His symphonies have been performed by the symphonies of Detroit, Atlanta, Savannah, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Alabama and Dallas among many others.
Many of his compositions are inspired by his experience and interest in the military, including the award-winning “Symphony for the Sons of Nam.” His “Buffalo Soldiers/American Soldier,” was commissioned by the West Point Military Academy in 2002 and “Fanfare For Life” was commission by AT&T with the Chicago Sinfonietta in performance.
Kimo has also completed a stage play and is writing an opera based on the courts-martial of Henry O. Flipper, the first black graduate of West Point.
He co-founded The “Lt. Dan Band", in 2003 with actor-musician Gary Sinise (Forest Gump, CSI: NY). Their primary goal was to perform USO shows for active duty service members. Through his band, he has traveled to Afghanistan, Kuwait, Korea, Singapore, Diego Garcia Germany, and other military bases to support military members.
He has received numerous awards to include; the Vietnam Veterans of America’s “Excellence in the Arts Award”: People To People International’s “Presidents Award”: the Lancaster Symphony’s 38th Recipient – “Composers Award for Contributions to American Music”: the League of Black Women’s “Black Rose Award” among others. Kimo is a “Fulbright Specialist” and a “Purpose Prize Fellow. “
Kimo is a photographer and owns a gallery in Shepherdstown WV (KimoPics.com).
He is currently a National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (Grammy Organization) Advocacy member representing the State of West Virginia to the 116th US Congress.
Kimo and his artist, partner, and wife, Carol live in Shepherdstown West Virginia.