Black History is 365
The month of February is typically designated Black History Month. On Feb. 1, 1978, the U.S. Postal Service® joined in the celebration with the introduction of the Black Heritage® stamp series. The series began with the issuance of a 13 cent commemorative stamp honoring abolitionist Harriet Tubman, who was the first African American woman to be honored on a U.S. postage stamp.
Unlike the denominated Tubman stamp, the Black Heritage stamp is now issued as a Forever® stamp and will always be equal in value to the current First-Class Mail® 1-ounce price. It is available year round or until supplies run out.
In the spirit of Black History occurring 365 days of the year, the Postal Service recognizes the accomplishments of African American men and women by annually issuing the Black Heritage Forever stamp, as well as through inclusion in other stamps outside of this series.
This year, the 42nd stamp in the series honored Gregory Hines, whose unique style of tap dancing injected new artistry and excitement into a traditional American form.
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.
A versatile performer who danced, acted and sang on Broadway, on television, and in movies, Hines was known above all for reviving and even revolutionizing tap dancing.
With his intense, offbeat style, which he liked to call “improvography,” Hines developed the entertainment traditions of tap dancing into an art form for a younger generation, giving tap newly expanded physical and emotional freedoms that would allow it to thrive in the new millennium.
Hines was remarkably versatile: He was nominated for Tony Awards in the 1970s for his performances in three Broadway musicals — “Eubie!” “Comin’ Uptown” and “Sophisticated Ladies” — and won a Tony Award in 1992 for his starring role in “Jelly’s Last Jam”.
He danced with his brother, Maurice, in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1984 film “The Cotton Club” and alongside ballet legend Mikhail Baryshnikov in the 1985 movie “White Nights,” and he appeared in the 1989 movie “Tap,” which highlighted three generations of tap dancers.
He also hosted an Emmy-winning PBS show about tap dancing, recorded a number-one R&B duet with Luther Vandross, twice hosted the Tony Awards, and acted in television sitcoms.
Today the legacy of Gregory Hines is perhaps most evident in the increasing popularity of tap dancing as an art form that is still advancing through new creative influences.
Combining an appreciation for tradition with fearless innovation, Hines gave new generations of dancers their own opportunities to experiment with tap and to contribute to its continued evolution.
And that is Black History year-round, courtesy of the U.S. Postal Service.
The ten-cent Booker T. Washington stamp was the first U.S. postage stamp to honor an African American.