What makes a city a place worth living? Its history matters. Iconic or historic buildings make a difference. Its culture provides its contextual interest. In the end, while all these are critical, a place is only as good as its people. I’ve paid tribute to many great people on this site. In many cases, I’ve been able to introduce people who are doing good things for the city. Periodically, I’ve drawn attention to those we’ve lost. Today is one of those days.
I’ve chosen today, Thanksgiving Day, to write about Brandon Gibson, who died last week at the age of 36, because today is a day of giving thanks. Some things in life are earned, both good and bad. But much of what brings great joy to our lives comes to us as a gift. We didn’t earn it. We didn’t necessarily deserve it, but it is ours. Brandon was such a gift and today I’m expressing thanks for what he gave our city.
“I didn’t know Brandon well . . .” So start many of the tributes posted to social media in recent days. In a way, that is even more a measure of his impact than the tributes from those who did know him well. What inspires so many people who would be considered casual acquaintances of a person to post moving tributes? It’s because of one of the great truths of Brandon’s very existence: If you encountered him, he made you feel like you were a friend or at least wish you could be. As a number of people have said, he made you feel seen and heard. And he probably made you laugh.
His impact, of course, goes far beyond being a good person. Brandon had one of the purest and best voices you’d ever want to hear and shared it in many ways, whether through his narration projects, or singing from a stage with Knoxville Opera, Clarence Brown Theatre, or Marble City Opera. Brandon not only performed, but became Managing Director of Marble City Opera, and wrote the libretto for “I Can’t Breathe,” their most recent production, which was based on the death of George Floyd.
He also gave generously of his time, serving on the boards of the Big Ears Festival and WUOT. He also served on The Women LLC of Knoxville micro loan review committee. He was recognized earlier this year as one of Knoxville’s best “40 Under 40.” In his interview accepting that award, when asked what was most important to him, he said, “Service. I believe that any gift or talent you have should be used first to help others.”
Marble City Opera released a statement:
It is with great sadness that we mourn the loss of our beloved Managing Director, Brandon Gibson. He was a truly talented and wonderful human who brought so much joy to those around him through his beautiful voice, presence on stage, and written word. Brandon was full of life and dedicated so much of his heart and soul into Marble City Opera and his other work in our community. We offer our deepest condolences to his family, friends, and the community of Knoxville.
Tom Cervone on behalf of Clarence Brown Theatre posted:
Unspeakably tragic news, the passing (and final exit) of this dear human, Brandon Gibson, artist, friend, and CBT/UTK Theatres company member; actor, singer, VOICE of Audrey II, as well as luminous, enthusiastic, and most charming box office employee. Truly, there are no words to adequately reflect the enormity of this loss to our community and, frankly, to the world. But, if you’ve got a moment or two or, two thousand, take a scroll through Facebook and one will immediately understand the incredible void we are all feeling, a collective sob, a hollow and empty space now exists wherever Brandon stood. Thank you, Brandon, for reminding us, moment to moment, day to day, and so forth, there is still lots of good in this universe. God Speed…
Knoxville Opera posted:
Knoxville Opera is heartbroken at the loss of our friend and colleague Brandon Gibson, Managing Director of Marble City Opera. Brandon graced the Knoxville Opera stage many times, and his resounding voice, infectious laugh, and generous spirit will be missed by all.
For all of his talents, which were enormous, it is as a great human that he’ll be remembered most. His generosity of spirit, his laugh, his kindness, and more made him the person we’ll carry forward with us. Brandon was one of the people who makes Knoxville the place we love. As we give thanks for the time we had with him, recognizing it was startlingly short, let us also celebrate those good people who remain and make this city a place worth living. Let’s aspire to be one of those people.
If you’d like to donate to Brandon’s funeral expenses (or to causes he held dear, if there is an excess), you can do so here. If you’d like to honor him by attending his services, visitation will be held on Friday, November 25th between 3-7pm at Bridges Funeral Home, and a celebration of his life will be held Saturday, November 26th beginning with visitation at 11:30am and service at 12:30pm, at the same location.