US Stamps

Bluegrass stamp takes the stage March 15 before Ricky Skaggs concert in Owensboro, Ky.

Mar 1, 2024, 8 PM

By Charles Snee

On March 15, the United States Postal Service will host a first-day ceremony for a forever commemorative honoring bluegrass music. Fittingly, the ceremony will take place in the lobby of the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum, 311 W. Second St., in Owensboro, Ky.

The new nondenominated (68¢) stamp will debut at 6 p.m. Central Time, one hour before bluegrass legend Ricky Skaggs takes the stage for a 7 p.m. concert at the museum. Skaggs was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Association Hall of Fame in 2018.

To register for the free public ceremony, go to the Postal Service’s website and complete the online form. Due to space limitations, each attendee may invite only one additional guest, according to the Postal Service.

Robert M. Duncan, who serves on the Postal Service’s board of governors, will act as the dedicating official for the Bluegrass stamp.

“Bluegrass is a singularly American music style [that] blends old-time folk and fiddle music with elements of the blues, jazz, country and gospel,” the Postal Service said in a Feb. 8 media advisory announcing the first-day ceremony.

As with several recent 2024 issues, the Postal Service’s Stamp Fulfillment Services center in Kansas City, Mo., will automatically distribute panes of 20 of the Bluegrass stamp to post offices. The distribution is intended to satisfy approximately 30 days of sale, according to the USPS.

Production details published in the Feb. 8 issue of the USPS Postal Bulletin state that Banknote Corporation of America in Browns Summit, N.C., printed a total of 15 million Bluegrass stamps that were finished into 750,000 panes of 20 for sale at post offices and other authorized philatelic outlets.

The Postal Service will also offer die-cut and imperforate uncut press sheets of 12 panes of 20. Both formats are priced at $163.20, the face value of the 240 stamps.

Heather Moulder of Woodbury, Tenn., took inspiration from vintage bluegrass concert posters for her illustration for the stamp that features “Bluegrass” in large white capital letters above four string instruments often seen in bluegrass bands: five-string banjo, fiddle, guitar and mandolin.

Thin white lines running parallel to the instruments give the impression of vibrations, as if the instruments are making music without being played.

The words “High Lonesome Sound” at the top of the stamp are a reference to John Cohen’s 1963 documentary The High Lonesome Sound, which chronicles the lives and music of Appalachians in eastern Kentucky, the Postal Service said. High lonesome sound is now a common nickname for bluegrass.

According to the Folkstreams website, the film “evocatively illustrates how music and religion help Appalachians maintain their dignity and traditions in the face of change and hardship.”

“The film features the noted Appalachian banjo picker Roscoe Holcomb and places him firmly in the context of the land and the people with whom he spent his life,” the website said.

Moulder worked closely with Antonio Alcala, who served as art director for the Bluegrass stamp.

As it turned out, both Alcala and Moulder have connections to bluegrass, which made their collaboration all the more rewarding.

“When I was young I only knew a little bit about Bluegrass,” Alcala said. “I learned a lot more when I got married. My wife is from east Tennessee and she helped school me.”

“Knowing bluegrass was a part of her heritage, I felt a special obligation to make sure the artwork felt appropriate and not stereotypical,” he continued. “Consequently, I asked to work with an artist musician from the Nashville area to make sure the art would represent the subject effectively.”

Moulder, the artist-musician Alcala mentioned, recalled her roots in rural Tennessee.

“It was all Flatt & Scruggs [a bluegrass duo] all the time in my grandpa’s truck!” Moulder recalled. “Uncle Dave Macon Days and the Smithville Fiddlers’ Jamboree are both close to home, and were the first places I got to witness this music firsthand.”

“When I moved to Nashville to work for Hatch Show Print making letterpress show posters,” Moulder said, “I got to work for and with a lot of bluegrass artists I admire, both through making posters and performing music myself.”

When asked about those white lines in the design, Moulder and Alcala emphasized their symbolic importance.

Moulder said, “ ‘Chatter’ is the name for the stray marks left behind in the woodcut process, and we thought leaving them in would be a nice allusion to how the image was made, as well as the feeling you get when experiencing bluegrass in a live setting.”

Bluegrass performers move about on the stage, changing their positions and body language in rhythm with the music. Those visual components of bluegrass influenced Moulder’s drive toward the final design of the stamp.

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