College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences

The Summer King in Winter

USM Panel Event and Performance to Address Issues of Race Raised by World Premiere of Baseball Opera

Music, baseball and history will come together next month in a special event at the University of Southern Maine (USM) that will highlight the upcoming world premiere of a unique opera on the life of Negro League great, Josh Gibson, written by Daniel Sonenberg, USM associate professor of music and resident composer.

Bringing together performers, historians and Maine dignitaries, the event, titled “The Summer King in Winter: A Panel Discussion on Integration and the Demise of the Negro Baseball Leagues,” will tell the story of African-American baseball players and the impact that integration had on both the Negro-League and professional sport in Maine and across the U.S.

In addition to the performance of an aria from the new opera, presentations and a panel discussion by Maine notables and historians will offer both historic and personal perspectives and current observations on challenges experienced by African-American participants in sports, according to Sonenberg.

Among the participants are Bob Greene, well-known Maine sports journalist; Leroy M. Rowe, USM assistant professor of African American history and politics; and Gerald Talbot, Maine’s first African-American state representative.

Sonenberg’s opera, “The Summer King: An Opera on the Life of Josh Gibson,” will have its world-premiere concert performance at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, May 8, at Merrill Auditorium, Portland, as the finale for the Portland Ovations 2013-2014 season. 

“This panel event should appeal to anyone interested in baseball, history and opera,” the USM composer said during a recent interview. “This is an interdisciplinary discussion of issues raised by the opera and raises the question about a highly under-examined subject – the plight of the community that surrounded and supported Negro League baseball particularly in the wake of segregation.”

“The USM School of Music is thrilled to be cooperating with Portland Ovations to bring “The Summer King” to the stage at Merrill Auditorium in May and to present this complementary event next month,” said Alan Kaschub, USM School of Music director. “We are proud of Professor Daniel Sonenberg, proud of our faculty and alumni who will be performing, and we are proud to be such an important part of the vibrant artistic community that is Southern Maine.

“One of USM's greatest strengths is our location,” Kaschub continued. “Being close to excellent arts organizations such as Portland Ovations allows us to share the important work of our faculty while serving the community where we live and work.”

"Not only is Dan Sonenberg a highly accomplished composer, he also is a profound scholar who understands and appreciates the larger context of his musical creations,” said Lynn Kuzma, dean of USM’s College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, which oversees the School of Music. “By putting "The Summer King" in historical and cultural perspective, this panel and discussion event can only enhance the experience of hearing his wonderful new opera."

Details of the event are:

  • “The Summer King in Winter”: A Panel Discussion on Integration and the Demise of the Negro Baseball Leagues; Featuring an aria performance from the new opera, “The Summer King,” presentations and discussion; Thursday, March 6; 5-5:30 p.m. Reception, Abromson Education Center mezzanine, University of Southern Maine Portland campus; 5:30 p.m., Event, Talbot Auditorium, Luther Bonney Hall, USM Portland campus; Free and open to the public.

The event is sponsored by the USM College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences; USM School of Music; USM Faculty Commons; Portland Ovations; and NAACP Portland.

Sonenberg’s new opera portrays the life and legacy of baseball phenomenon, Josh Gibson, who was known as “the black Babe Ruth” because of his incredible skill and accomplishments as a ballplayer in a career spanning nearly two decades. While inducted posthumously into the Cooperstown Baseball Hall of Fame, Gibson never made it into the Major Leagues and tragically died three months before Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.

Sonenberg said he hopes the March event will highlight several different aspects of his opera, showing its relevancy to American history and building interest in its music and story.

“And then there’s the personal experience that we will hear from our presenters,” Sonenberg said. “It’s an opportunity for the audience to get something broader than my perspective from people who have dealt directly with these issues in their lives.”

Aimée M. Petrin, Portland Ovations executive director, will moderate the event. Among its highlights, Sonenberg will discuss his opera in a talk titled, “Never to Set Foot on the Soil of the Promised Land: Reflections on Josh, Sam and ‘The Summer King.’” Kenneth Kellogg, bass, of the Washington (D.C.) National Opera will perform “Sam’s Aria” from “The Summer King,” accompanied by pianist Chiharu Naruse. Nathan Lapointe, a USM senior drama major from Van Buren, will perform a short, spoken dramatic role at the end of the aria.

Greene, a long-time sports reporter with the Associated Press, will speak on "Satchel Paige --World's Greatest Pitcher" and other aspects of African-American baseball. Rowe will speak on “The Demise of a Black Community Institution: How Integration Saved the Major Leagues and Ruined the Negro League.” Talbot will offer his observations and personal recollections on: “Black Baseball in Maine: Reflections on the Portland Black Panthers.”

A panel discussion open to questions from the audience will follow.

For more information about Portland Ovations, go to