Editor’s note: This story was originally published in December 2007.
Like many of the men in his family, Richard Gibson of Lee’s Summit was going to be a chiropractor. He just knew it.
But sitting on the Middle East island of Bahrain as a member of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Corps changed things for Gibson, a 1999 graduate of Lee’s Summit High School.
Gibson, who joined the Marines 12 days out of high school, said Marine life in Bahrain wasn’t pleasant.
“It’s the first time you’re away from home, “ he said. “You’re in the Middle East. It’s 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Either you get depressed and start drinking a lot, or you find your happy place and just go on with life.”
Gibson chose the latter, which just happened to be music -- more specifically, singing. He said singing became his “happy place” because he had fond memories of vocal performances. He sang in nine choirs during his senior year in high school and performed in various concerts and musicals.
But singing was just a hobby, he thought. He never considered doing it for a living. His future was set for him; he was going to be a chiropractor. But his destiny took a sharp turn in the Middle East.
“Singing was never anything I wanted to do, “ he said, “until Bahrain, because my happy place was being on stage. And it just evolved into, ‘Man, I miss singing.’ “
Through an audition, Gibson earned the privilege to be the narrator of various Marine Corps ceremonies. His vocals earned him the nickname “The Voice.” He said many fellow Marines never heard of Cpl. Richard Gibson, but they knew “The Voice.”
His talents were so well-known that some comrades would wake him from sleep to hear him sing. They included a group of Notre Dame fans who yearned to hear “Danny Boy.”
In May 2003, after being a part of the initial invasion of Iraq, Gibson returned to the United States. Shortly after, he left the country again, this time returning to his roots to pursue his dream of singing.
Gibson and his family had emigrated to the United States from South Africa. His father, Hugo Gibson, was a professional singer in a South Africa opera company. Gibson said his father was always having him listen to opera as he was growing up. The music stuck with him.
Six months after returning to the United States from Iraq, Gibson went back to South Africa, seeking his father’s former vocal instructor.
“I had no idea if he was alive or not, “ Gibson said, “but I had to go. I just had to go.”
He found the man and, in four months, received 62 voice lessons.
“It was like vocal boot camp, “ he said. “It really got me in great shape to start singing opera.”
Upon returning to the United States, Gibson earned a scholarship to the University of Missouri-Kansas City. There, he began studying with Gustavo Halley, which proved to be a humbling experience.
“I thought I was a lot better than I really was until I started improving under the tutelage of Gustavo, “ he said.
Gibson knew it would take hard work and perseverance to reach the level he wanted to achieve.
“I’m willing to do the work, to do what it takes, “ he said. “But it’s in God’s hands.”
Though just two years into his training at UMKC, Gibson already has landed roles in two professional performances. He recently performed in the Lyric Opera of Kansas City’s presentation of “Aida” and was hired for a presentation of “John Brown.”
“It’s very rare for someone who has only studied voice for two years to get hired on as a professional singer to an opera company, “ he said.
Gibson said he doesn’t blame anyone who thinks it’s a little odd that a former Marine now wants to sing opera. He knows the transition between the two is harder than most understand.
“Artists are more sensitive by nature, “ he said, “and Marines aren’t the most-sensitive creatures. It’s been a huge obstacle to try to let go an just envelop the music. You can’t hold onto everything the Marine Corps has taught you and still be successful in art. It’s two conflicting things.”
His opera goals are lofty.
“I don’t just want to be an opera singer, “ he said. “I want to be a rich, famous opera singer.”