The 42nd stamp in the Black Heritage series honors Gregory Hines (1946-2003), whose unique style of tap dancing injected new artistry and excitement into a traditional American dance form. The Forever (55-cent) stamp will be issued January 28, in New York City and nationwide.
A versatile performer who danced, choreographed, acted in drama and comedy and sang on Broadway, television and in movies, Hines helped develop tap’s traditions into a fresh art form for a younger generation, and is widely credited with renewing interest in tap during the 1990s. Art director Derry Noyes designed the stamp. The stamp features a 1988 photograph by Jack Mitchell that shows a smiling Hines on one knee in a red blazer and gray pants, with one foot raised to show the taps on the bottom of his shoe.
Born on Valentine’s Day in New York City in 1946, the son of dancer, musician, and actor Maurice Robert Hines, Gregory began tapping at age two, and was dancing semi-professionally when he was five. Working with his brother Maurice, and later his father too, Gregory met and learned from some of the greats of tap dancing, including the Nicholas Brothers.
According to the Library of Congress Tap Dance in America: A Short History by Constance Valis Hill, Hines gained wide attention in 1981 in the Broadway opening of Sophisticated Ladies, which opened the way to popular movies in which dance was featured in the 1980s. As Hill writes, in 1989 “the PBS production of Tap Dance in America, hosted by Gregory Hines, featuring tap masters and young virtuoso Savion Glover, bridged the gap between tap dance and mainstream entertainment.” Glover was outstanding, but also just one of many who sought to share in the creativity and rich culture of tap-dancing as popularized by Hines.
Customers have 120 days to obtain the first-day-of-issue postmark by mail. They may purchase new stamps at their local post office or at The Postal Store website at usps.com/shop. They must affix the stamps to envelopes of their choice, address the envelopes (to themselves or others), and place them in a larger envelope addressed to:
FDOI – Gregory Hines Stamp
USPS Stamp Fulfillment Services
8300 NE Underground Drive, Suite 300
Kansas City, MO 64144-9900
After applying the first-day-of-issue postmark, the Postal Service will return the envelopes through the mail. There is no charge for the postmark up to a quantity of 50. There is a 5-cent charge for each additional postmark over 50. All orders must be postmarked by May 28, 2019.
Although the first U.S. stamp to commemorate an American of African ancestry was the 10-cent Booker T. Washington stamp of the Famous Americans series issued in 1940 (Scott 873), a commemorative series dedicated to Black Heritage began in 1978 with a 13-cent stamp honoring Harriet Tubman (Scott 1744), who helped more than 300 slaves make their way to freedom via the Underground Railway. In the four decades since, this popular series has become a showcase for the amazing success in all walks of life achieved by the proud people it celebrates.
If there are any reservations about this widely celebrated series, it may be that it is difficult for an outside observer to determine why some black celebrities are in one series rather than another. For example, the black composer and pianist Scott Joplin was deservedly recognized for his role as the father of Ragtime music with a Black Heritage stamp in 1983 (Scott 2044). Paul Robeson, Marian Anderson and Ella Fitzgerald were similarly honored during 2004-07. But it was hard to see how these four men and women represented Black Heritage, and the 32 African-Americans celebrated in the 1993-99 American Music Series did not.
The 20-teens have been especially chaotic. In 2012, acclaimed jazz trumpeter and composer Miles Davis somehow ended up in an odd Musicians pair with French chanteuse Edith Piaf (Scott 4693a). Then Ray Charles in 2013 (Scott 4807), Jimi Hendrix in 2014 (Scott 4880) and Sarah Vaughan in 2016 (Scott 5059) were christened “Music Icons” in yet another series — one that also included Elvis Presley (again), Johnny Cash and John Lennon. In 2018, Lena Horne became the latest Black Heritage musician (Scott 5259); was she insufficiently iconic?
It’s all a bit confusing, probably because life in America can be a bit confusing.
I laud the desire to hold up as examples to the black community those men and women who triumphed over generations of poverty and adversity to achieve greatness — but I am proud of them, too. They are no less worthy as examples to others here − whether recent immigrants or Mayflower descendants – and the music they make, the art they create, the championships they win, the speeches they deliver and the nation they build is important regardless of what color you are or the land from which your forebearers came.
A nation where everyone came from elsewhere, America’s heritage belongs to us all.