For Kansas City Veteran And Singer, 'God Bless America' Stirs Up Pride In City, Country

Oct 22, 2014

Richard Gibson stopped by the KCUR studios for a preview of his rendition of "God Bless America."
Credit Laura Spencer / KCUR

Richard Gibson, 33, enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps just after high school and was stationed in Iraq. When his service ended in 2003, and he returned to Kansas City, he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. 

With a love for singing and performance, Gibson turned to opera. For the past eight years, he's been a member of the Lyric Opera of Kansas City chorus. He's also taking on a new role, as conductor of a Veteran's Chorus

In his dress blues on Wednesday, he’ll sing "God Bless America" during the seventh inning stretch of the World Series. 

"We got here December 23, 1985, just after the Royals won the World Series," says Gibson, who was five when his family moved to the United States from South Africa. "It's been fantastic to cheer on the Royals the entire time."  

Interview Highlights: 

On turning to singing after serving as a Marine 

I just got out of Iraq having to sing opera. Whenever you're there, all of the nonsense goes away. 

I was sitting there [in 2003], digging a "Ranger grave," which is something for the Marines to sleep in at night to protect from shrapnel and gunfire and everything. For me, I tried to find my happy place. And the happiest place that I could find, to be truthful with myself, was on stage whenever I was performing. I made a vow to myself and to the Creator that if I was to make it out, I would spend my life and pursue trying to give back to my fellow man in a positive way. 

On opera as a therapeutic tool 

You're dealing with these things, you don't understand what's going on...and through the VA and the therapy there, that was one aspect. But, opera, it was unique because it was selfless, not selfish. It's about being part of something that's bigger than yourself. It's about coming together with all those individuals that have the same passions and the same dreams of making art and performing a great show. That helped with the camaraderie that I was missing, that I actually found at the Lyric Opera...that just made it really comfortable for me to be able to shed those fears. 

On themes related to peace and war in "God Bless America" 

I not only represent Kansas City, but I'm donning the Marine Corps dress blues. So I'm representing every veteran, and every active duty military member that has gone before - not just Marine, I'm representing the nation as well. So it's so much bigger than just me. 

And whenever I sit and think about it, the song becomes more of a prayer for me and a fervent desire that everybody would see the foolishness in war. And this song, in my personal opinion, encompasses that. 

On the lyrics and meaning of "God Bless America" 

"My home sweet home," "God bless America," "my home sweet home," "from the mountains," "to the prairies," "to the oceans" - all of it. "God bless America." All of it. 

The fact that I came here from a country [South Africa] that didn't have as much opportunity, even at a young age, my eyes were still opened to the opportunities that we have here. 

At the beginning, it was, 'Oh, I get to sing it.' But as I sang it time and time again, and I thought about it, and the reality started to set in: I'm representing the city that I love, I'm representing the country that I love. I have one chance at this. And that's just the truth, that I love this country and want this country to succeed. And this is my fervent prayer, to the Creator, that God would please bless America. 

To me, it can be an incredibly powerful song. 

Correction: We previously identified Richard Gibson as a soldier in our headline, but that was changed.