Pittsburgh Opera’s general director, Christopher Hahn, understands why the opera, “The Summer King,” about a baseball player raises eyebrows. But he told the Associated Press that opera is an effective genre to share Gibson’s story because it allow people “to sing about emotions and aspirations and fears.”
Often compared to New York Yankee’s slugger Babe Ruth, Gibson was one of the first three Negro Leagues players inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Gibson, who led the Black league in home runs three times, played for two Pittsburgh teams.
Daniel Sonenberg, who composed the opera, told the AP that Gibson is “the story that came before Jackie Robinson.” Gibson was the second-highest paid player in the Black league, behind pitcher Satchel Paige, and one of the biggest attractions for White major league team owners who wanted to integrate baseball.
“It was Josh who demonstrated it was competitive suicide not to integrate,” Sonenberg explained to the AP.
“Fences,” the recent film starring Denzel Washington, touched on Gibson’s life. The opera will tell the full story, said the hall of famer’s great-grandson, Sean Gibson.
Tragically, Gibson died at age 35, likely from a brain aneurysm, just months before Robinson integrated Major League Baseball in 1947.
Sean Gibson told the AP that his great-grandfather is well-known for his amazing baseball skills. “But behind the uniform was a great man who lived through tragedy outside of dealing with racism and playing baseball: His wife died giving birth to their twins,” he stated.