Pittsburgh Opera presents the world premiere of
The Summer King – the Josh Gibson Story
Pittsburgh, PA: Pittsburgh Opera’s 2016-’17 season concludes with the first world premiere in our illustrious 78-year history. Opera lovers, baseball fans, and Pittsburghers of all stripes will be dazzled by Daniel Sonenberg’s The Summer King – the Josh Gibson Story, at the Benedum Center April 29th – May 7th.
As baseball fans and proud Pittsburgh history enthusiasts know, Josh went from the sandlots of Pittsburgh’s North Side to the pinnacle of greatness on the baseball diamond in the Negro Leagues, before ultimately being enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
The opera begins with a father and son debating about great baseball players. When the father mentions Josh Gibson, the son thinks his father is living in the past. But as his father retorts, “Who’s got those numbers today?”
The Summer King follows Josh at key points in his life, including his playing days in the Negro Leagues as well as in Mexico, where he was awarded the MVP award while playing for the Veracruz Azules. The robust supporting characters include his wife Helen, who dies in childbirth, his girlfriend Grace, sung by the legendary Denyce Graves in her Pittsburgh Opera debut, and teammates such as Sam Bankhead and Cool Papa Bell.
Also featured in prominent roles are the gregarious Gus Greenlee, who owned not just the Pittsburgh Crawfords but also the legendary Crawford Grill in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, and Wendell Smith, an intrepid reporter for the celebrated African American newspaper The Pittsburgh Courier.
Like all African Americans at the time, Josh was prohibited from playing in the Major Leagues by what was disingenuously referred to as a “gentlemen’s agreement” among the Major League clubs. Sadly, Josh died at the age of 35, felled by a stroke shortly before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Pittsburgh Opera is proud and privileged to premiere The Summer King, Josh Gibson’s story.
Pittsburgh Opera’s annual Student Matinee will introduce 2,600+ school children grades 3-12 to this lively opera on Thurs., May 4th at the Benedum Center.
Josh Gibson™ used with permission of Josh Gibson Enterprise, Inc., c/o Luminary Group LLC, www.JoshGibson.org.
Fascinating Facts about The Summer King
- For crusading Pittsburgh Courier journalist Wendell Smith, seeing baseball’s color barrier broken had an extra level of significance. In college, a major league scout told Smith he wished that he could sign him, but couldn’t due to the color barrier.
- Five Pittsburgh sports legends will appear as supernumeraries in one or more performances of The Summer King. Former Pirates Al Oliver and Sean Casey, and former Steelers Franco Harris, Rocky Bleier and Charlie Batch’s participation symbolizes that while Josh’s athletic greatness may have gone unnoticed by much of the white public in his day, Pittsburgh’s sports heroes recognize him as one of their own.
- Many of Josh’s descendants are alive and well, and still live in Pittsburgh. Great-grandson Sean Gibson is the Executive Director of The Josh Gibson Foundation, which develops programs that help children of every ability level reach their potential.
- Pittsburgh Opera chorister Skip Napier’s grandfather Eudie Napier was Josh’s teammate on the 1946 Homestead Grays. Skip, a baritone, is a classically trained singer.
About Pittsburgh Opera: Pittsburgh Opera celebrates its 78th season in 2016-17. Established by five intrepid women in 1939, Pittsburgh Opera is viewed as one of the most vibrant opera organizations in the U.S., with a rich artistic tradition, outstanding educational programs, an acclaimed artist training program, and a progressive outlook toward the future. Its green initiative culminated in LEED® Silver certification for its Strip District headquarters, and its capacity as a true community partner has increased significantly under General Director Christopher Hahn’s leadership.