Love was the inspiration for Laurel Cole’s song, “Under a Gig Harbor Moon,” specifically her love of the city she called home for 17 years.
A singer and songwriter, Cole was on her way back from a nighttime performance with the band Sentimental Journey when she was inspired to compose her song.
“One evening we were coming back and I just looked out on the harbor and saw the glittering lights and there was a moon out and I just thought, ‘This is so beautiful,’ and I just felt like writing a song,” Cole said via phone this week from her home in California. “Out of affection for the harbor and a love for the place, I decided to write a song.”
She was further motivated by the feeling that Gig Harbor deserved a song, much like songs about other cities.
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“I thought a beautiful place like Gig Harbor deserved one too,” she announced with a laugh.
Cole worked out a tune, some rhymes and a few “picturesque phrases” and wrote it all down, before showing it to her friend and fellow bandmate, Dick Coolen.
Several weeks later — just in time for Cole’s 50th birthday celebration — Coolen presented her with the completed arrangement for her song, with arrangements for piano and a big band.
“It was really kind of exciting collaborating and having it down on paper,” Cole said.
Sentimental Journey first performed the song at the Mayor’s Big Band Dinner Dance, an event organized by former Mayor Gretchen Wilbert to celebrate Gig Harbor’s 50th anniversary.
At the event, Wilbert and her husband, Bill, were invited to begin the dancing to “Under a Gig Harbor Moon,” Cole said.
The following year, Wilbert hosted a release party for Cole and Sentimental Journey’s CD, titled “Under a Gig Harbor Moon,” which featured Cole and Coolen’s song.
The party was held on the deck of Wilbert’s house, with a moon rising over the harbor as Cole sang her song.
“That was probably the most magical evening of my life,” she said of the memory.
Shortly after that, Wilbert began her steady campaign to have the song adopted officially by the city of Gig Harbor.
“She used to say to me ‘Wouldn’t it be great if (the song) could be the theme song of Gig Harbor?’ and we would agree,” Cole said.
Wilbert maintained her campaign for years, becoming more active with her efforts after leaving the mayor’s office, but the song was never adopted by the city during Wilbert’s lifetime. Wilbert died November 15, 2015, at the age of 87.
According to city clerk Molly Towlsee, Wilbert had tasked her daughter, Cindy, with a final request: To see that “Under a Gig Harbor Moon” was named the official song of the city of Gig Harbor.
Cole was amazed at the depth of Wilbert’s love for the song.
“I really had no idea how important it was to her until after she passed away and I learned it was one of her last wishes,” Cole said. “She always mentioned to me that she would go to sleep every night listening to that song … that warmed my heart.”
Wilbert’s daughter confirmed that her mother listened to the song daily until her death, Cole said.
The Gig Harbor City Council honored Wilbert’s final wish and, on the first meeting of 2016, voted unanimously to adopt “Under a Gig Harbor Moon” as the official song.
“I think it’s a wonderful thing to honor (Wilbert’s) memory this way,” Towslee said.
Copies of the signed resolution were presented to Wilbert’s family, Coolen and Cole.
“This is really amazing that they have signed a resolution to have that happen,” Cole said. “It’s a fabulous honor to have something you’ve created out of love and honor for a place making such a mark and getting that kind of recognition.”
Cole and her husband lived in Gig Harbor for 17 years before moving to California in 2006 to be closer to their daughter and twin granddaughters. She still performs occasionally for private events with jazz duos and trios, but nothing to the professional extent she performed while living in Gig Harbor.
“Gig Harbor is a beautiful place. It’s very easy to have a place like that touch your heart like it did mine,” Cole said. “Gig Harbor will always always hold a place in my heart.”