Here is the unedited introduction to my Orville H. Gibson biography:
To those who have seen the photograph of Orville H. Gibson that stares out from the lyre mandolin label of early Gibson instruments, he may appear stoic and a bit too serious. Not much has been known about Orville. He was born in Chateaugay, New York in 1856. He was the youngest child of John and Amy Gibson. He participated in the music scene of the late 19th century in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He was known to be stubborn. He never married. He was known to be highly critical of his counterparts. He has one patent for stringed instrument construction. The Gibson company began in 1902. And Orville died in 1918. Now that you’ve been brought up to date with everyone else, it’s time to really get to know Orville.
Although this book began as a term paper for one of my classes at Western Michigan University, it covers far more aspects of Orville’s life that can be written about in a college essay. What follows covers far more than what is necessary for a guitar book. I’ve said from the start of this project, the Gibson company was more of a retirement plan for Orville. And if you want to read about guitars, this isn’t the book you’re looking for. This book is about a person. So if you want to know about Orville himself prior to the start of the Gibson company, by all means, read on.
My goal is to present as much information about Orville H. Gibson, the man, as can be deciphered from historical documents. The goal of this book is to bring him to life. Don’t let those dark, piercing eyes on the instrument labels fool you. Orville was a local favorite on the vaudeville stage right from the beginning, something he would have had to have been very animated in order to do. He was an accomplished guitarist by the age of nineteen. He was also a song and dance man, a baritone vocalist, and a drummer. Later, he formed his own band, The Orpheus Mandolin Club.
Although he never married, he was not the lone wolf that he was previously thought to be. He had a wide circle of friends and acquaintances in Kalamazoo whom you will meet here. He was also involved in volunteer organizations and participated in charitable events that benefited the community. You will read reviews and descriptions of songs, dances, and skits. Nor was he estranged from his family as previously thought. Orville made numerous trips to visit his family back in New York and they came to Michigan to visit him, some of which will help date his arrival in Kalamazoo. He also had his share of personal troubles later in life and his family was there for him.
The purpose of this book is to bring Orville’s story to light and add it to the history of the Gibson Company. He had been a successful independent luthier for years before the company was created. His story is relevant. It is an important one that can teach us things about friends, perseverance, and facing life’s challenges. It teaches us about the difficulties and rewards of change and progress. In addition, this book makes an effort to give the reader a glimpse of the company from Orville’s perspective.
A secondary purpose is to provide material in such a way, through endnotes and resources consulted, that future researchers can continue to discover new information about Orville, his life, and his instrument output. His story matters. After all, it’s been ninety-eight years since his passing and we’re still talking about him.