“An opera about Negro Leagues baseball star Josh Gibson, whose power hitting rivaled Babe Ruth’s, will have its world premiere in Pittsburg in April,” according to the Washington Post. On April 29th, 2017, the Pittsburg Opera will premiere “The Summer King,” which tells the story of baseball star and legend Josh Gibson.
Who would consider Opera and baseball in the same spectrum of entertainment, or a way to tell a story which combines the two? But like Christopher Hahn, general director, of the Pittsburg Opera, said: “opera is the perfect medium for telling Gibson’s story because opera allows people to sing about emotions and aspirations and fears.” Gibson was one of the first three black league players, and he was also inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Gibson rivaled Babe Ruth’s hitting speed, and his average was .350.
Gibson was named Negro National League Batting Champ twice and led the league in home runs three times. He played for two Pittsburg teams, the Homestead Grays, and the Crawfords. Sadly, Gibson died at the age of 35. Medical reports say that he “probably” died from a brain aneurysm, just a few months before Jackie Robinson intergraded baseball in 1947.
Daniel Sonenberg, the composer of “The Summer King,” said that Gibson’s story is the story that came before Jackie Robinson. Gibson’s career set the precedence for Robinson’s “advent” into the league. It was Gibson’s high-level playing that caught the attention of white league owners, and he showed that race wasn’t a factor in quality baseball players; which busted the gates of integration wide open.
The integration in baseball did have its ugly side. It led to the Negro League’s shut down, ending the careers of dozens of black athletes because they weren’t of the few chosen for white teams. Both stories in “Fences” and “The Summer King” tell a story that honors an entire generation of amazing and talented players whose lives and social foundations were ended. Most people are familiar with the story of Gibson’s baseball career: a home run hitter often compared to Babe Ruth. But behind the scenes, behind the uniform, was “a great man who lived through tragedy outside of dealing with racism and playing baseball: his wife died while giving birth to their twins,” says Sean Gibson. The opera will demonstrate Gibson’s career playing abroad in Cuba, Mexico, and other places. Sean Gibson also said, “Over there they didn’t have to deal with racism.”
According to the Washington Post, nearly all 14 primary roles are played by African Americans in “The Summer King;” which is rare in operas. Gibson also has a ballfield named after him, located at 2217 Bedford Ave. in Pittsburgh’s Hill district neighborhood.
If you’re in the area and plan to attend, here is where and when the Opera will be held:
THE SUMMER KING: Performances April 29, May 2, 5 and 7,
Benedum Center for the Performing Arts, 237 Seventh St., Pittsburgh
Read more of the story here.
Photo Credit: Negro Leagues
BY: NICOLE EMANUEL