Kenny Hall Gallery

Memories

Kenny Hall’s parents didn’t know what to do. He was born fully blind and the local schools couldn’t be of much help in the way of educating him.

So, his parents were recommended to take him to the “California School of the Blind.” At age 6, Kenny was driven to the school, which at the time was located on the campus of UC Berkeley. The school had told his parents to just drop him off and not tell him what was coming. Kenny was dropped off at the school without knowing that it was a residential school. He would live there learning his academics along with “life skills.”

Kenny told Mike Mueller that he cried and cried, for weeks. It’s difficult to imagine the trauma felt by a little 6-year-old, left (abandoned, in a sense) at a place where he had no idea what was to come of him. Eventually, the crying stopped.

He was friended by Miss Natalie Bigelow, a music teacher at the school. He was given piano lessons, which Kenny hated! What Kenny did enjoy was listening to old-time music on the radio. While many of his classmates were enthused by sports broadcasting on the radio, Kenny loved the old-time sounds. Not only were records played, but radio stations would also host live string band music. Kenny asked Miss Bigelow (on whom he had a boyhood crush) if he could get a fiddle to learn old-time music. Miss Bigelow agreed and Kenny was presented with a fiddle. The music that Miss Bigelow found was from a late 19th-century book called “The Home Circle.”

Although Kenny was known for his music, his first love was unquestionably nature and the outdoors. Kenny loved the outdoors. The school was adjacent to the mountains near the campus and the kids (both blind and deaf students) were taken on long hikes, lasting all day. The other kids would complain but Kenny loved it. Outside of the school-led hikes, Kenny would go and hike alone.

It was during these solo hikes that Kenny developed a “sonar” system of getting around safely in the woods. He would do a clicking sound with his mouth, and listen for the echo of objects. It’s the same concept that bats use. Kenny never did speak of any accidents he ever had, hiking as a kid and as an adult along the John Muir Trail and in the Sierra Nevada mountains near Fresno. Some research on this clicking technique led to a blind teacher who called it “echolocation.” This teacher would teach echolocation to blind students in coordination with a cane to safely navigate themselves in their communities.

There is a segment in Kenny’s documentary showing him using the clicking while hiking along the trails near the Sweet’s Mill camp.

From Kenny’s house on Shields Avenue, he’d walk all over town, even as far south as Kearney Park and beyond. He’d often walk to the McDonald’s on Shields and Blackstone where the kind employees would give him coffee and an Egg McMuffin. Kenny didn’t use a cane or utilize a seeing-eye dog. Didn’t need them.

Eventually, Kenny got to age 17 at the Blind School. During the 11 years that he was there, he was able to go home on Christmas break and during the summer vacation. Kenny explained that eventually, he preferred to stay at the school, close to his beloved hiking trails.

The story that Kenny told was that he was asked to leave school for “holding hands with a girl.” In reality, he’d come of age to leave the school.

Musically, Kenny continued to excel and played music fervently to his dying day.