New Opera in Detroit Explores Life, Career of Negro Leagues Legend Josh Gibson

Courtesy of Michigan Opera Theatre

Jacqueline Echols (left) as Helen Gibson, with Lester Lynch as Josh Gibson

When you think of the greatest baseball player of all time, what image comes to mind? Is it Babe Ruth? Willie Mays? Ty Cobb?

Chances are you didn’t immediately shout at your computer, “Josh Gibson!”

But many baseball historians feel strongly that’s a name that belongs in Baseball’s pantheon of legendary figures. Why aren’t we all as familiar with that name as we are with the ones I just listed?

Unlike them, Josh Gibson never had a chance to play in the MLB.

Although he was arguably the greatest player alive during his career, he was shut out of the league due to segregation. And it was just a short time after a brain tumor ended his career and life that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier and re-integrated baseball.

There’s now an opera about Gibson’s life, called The Summer King, composed by Daniel Sonenberg

It hits the Detroit Opera House Stage on Saturday, May 12th at 7:30 p.m. The Michigan Opera Theatre production runs through May 20th.

Sonenberg joins Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson to talk about the opera as well as the life and career of Josh Gibson.

This seemed like such an obvious opera to me,” says Sonenberg. “He struck me as a very clear, tragic operatic figure.”

Henderson also speaks with soprano Jacqueline Echols, a Detroit native who portrays Gibson’s wife Helen, as well as Gary Gillette, a baseball writer and historian who is the founder and president of Friends of Historic Hamtramck Stadium, where Negro League baseball was played here in Metro Detroit.

Click on the audio player above to hear the full conversation.

Jake Neher/WDET

(From left to right), Stephen Henderson with Jacqueline Echols, Daniel Sonenberg, and Gary Gillette


Image credit: Courtesy of Michigan Opera Theatre

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Detroit Today

Dynamic and diverse voices. News, politics, community and the issues that define our region. Hosted by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Stephen Henderson, Detroit Today brings you fresh and perceptive views weekdays at 9 am and 7 pm.  

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