At the end of April, the Pittsburgh Opera will bring to life characters like Cool Papa Bell, Gus Greenlee, and the Pittsburgh Courier’s own Wendell Smith as it stages the world premiere of the original opera about the life of Negro League Baseball legend Josh Gibson, “The Summer King.”
To promote the historic production, the Josh Gibson Foundation and the Pittsburgh Opera recently held a series of community events highlighting the production, including stops in the Hill District and Homestead, where Josh Gibson played, and at the Pittsburgh Project near where Josh Gibson grew up on Charles Street.
The events included panel discussions with opera and foundation members, a video greeting from composer Daniel Sonenberg and performances by some of the actors in the production, including Alfred Walker, who plays Josh Gibson.
“A lot of you may not know that the Pittsburgh Opera has been around 78 years and this is the first ever world premiere. That alone is historic and to have an opera based on an African American male here in Pittsburgh is historic itself,” said foundation Executive Director Sean Gibson. “A lot of people know the baseball side of Josh’s life playing for the Homestead Grays and Pittsburgh Crawford. This shows the family man, the am, the legacy outside of baseball—the single parent whose wife died in childbirth delivering his twins.”
Outside of his personal connection to the production, Sean Gibson said he hopes having kids seeing African Americans like Walker playing his great-grandfather might spark an interest.
“To see someone of the same race perform like this maybe our kids coming to the matinee will say this is something I’d like to do,” he said.
Opera Director Christopher Hahn said outside of Gibson’s record-setting achievements in sports, his life is the stuff of great theater.