Hackney Music Development Trust’s Shadowball is an innovative new baseball project featuring the creation of a new Jazz Opera, by composer Julian Joseph and author Mike Philips, about Black Baseball players linked to a sports programme for primary schools, using the arts both as a learning tool for other areas of the curriculum, and to stimulate interest in this sport.
‘Shadow Ball’ refers to a common pre-game feature during which Negro League players warmed up by staging mock games with an imaginary ball. Though unintended, this pantomime was an apt metaphor for the exclusion of Blacks from Major League play in America for over 60 years. Using the stories of Black Baseball players in the 1930s-40s, and their jazz compatriots who often suffered similar racial prejudice, Shadowball is designed to inspire young people to achieve despite the odds. Through the project, students, teachers and families will experience the struggles of players like Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Rube Foster, and “Cool Papa” Bell – a generation of Black athletes who may have been among the greatest players of their time, but whose remarkable talents and achievements playing the ‘National Pastime’ went unacknowledged, and Jackie Robinson, who in 1947 broke the ‘colour barrier’ by becoming first baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and helped to inspire the Civil Rights Movement in America over a decade later.
The Negro Leagues was a thriving institution, not only for sport, but also for the Black Jazz musicians connected with the game such as Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong – who owned a baseball team, Cab Calloway – who played on one, and Bo Jangles who was known to tap dance on dugout roofs during ball games; themselves combating racism and discrimination as they battled to define a new art form.