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Author reads donated book to Rock Island students, honoring local musician and Black History Month

RICSD was gifted copies of "How Little Billy Learned to Play" by Shellie Moore Guy, commemorating the late jazz musician and QC native Bill Bell.

ROCK ISLAND, Ill. — In honor of Black History Month, the Rock Island-Milan School district was given a donation of books honoring the late East Moline jazz musician Bill Bell. 

Shellie Moore Guy, former Quad City Poet Laureate and the author of "How Little Billy Learned to Play", visited Thurgood Marshall Learning Center on Friday, February 11 and read the story to a class.

The story, a fictionalized children's book tribute to a local icon, honors the late William "Bill" Bell, an East Moline and celebrated jazz pianist, composer, and educator.

Shellie says that the story helps student develop a sense of pride in themselves and their community. She wrote it in a "call-and-response" style, which helps younger readers engage with the material.

"...that's what you want as a storyteller. You want the audience to become a part of the story because then they'll know the story but also they'll know the lessons of the story," she told News8.

RELATED: A story made in the Quad Cities: "How Little Billy Learned to Play"

Through the donation, every Head Start classroom in Rock Island received a copy of the book.

"How Little Billy Learned to Play" is available to purchase for $10 from the Midwest Learning Center, a Rock Island nonprofit that helps local writers find learn and grow with community involvement in public workshops, contests, publications and more.

Watch the full reading below

William Bell, also known as "The Jazz Professor", grew up in the Watertown neighborhood of East Moline, where he grew up in a musical family and learned to play the piano. 

He went on to graduate from Augustana College and the University of Iowa, later moving to the San Franciso Bay area, where he went on to teach music at many different schools, play in local clubs, and release several albums, amidst wider involvement in the local jazz community.

Bell passed away on March 18, 2017, survived by his wife, daughter, and son.

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