Earlier this year, the U.S. postal service revealed plans for a new stamp set called Music Icons. The series shines the spotlight on three American originals.
The first issue in the Music Icon series honored Lydia Mendoza, a pioneer of Tejano music, the style that comes from the Texas-Mexico border area.
Lydia Mendoza was 18 years old when she walked into a San Antonio studio and recorded “Mal Hombre” or “Evil Man” in 1934. Known as the “Lark of the Border,” she continued performing into her 70s, and would record more than a thousand songs. “Mal Hombre” was her biggest hit and even had a bit of resurgence a few years ago after it was used in the soundtrack to Jeff Bridge’s Oscar winning film “Crazy Heart.”
The art for her stamp uses an old publicity photo of a smiling Mendoza holding her 12-string guitar. The Texas state flag is superimposed over the singer and the stamp looks much like an old, worn, record cover.
Actor Jesse Borrego, a San Antonio native, was the master of ceremonies at the Lydia Mendoza stamp unveiling. He says the new stamp helps to cement the legacy that Latinos have had in the United States.
“It shows what we represent in terms of being Americans and being from the First World," he said. "So I think commemorating someone like Lydia Mendoza and having her be the kickoff to this musical series that includes the likes of Johnny Cash and Ray Charles is very important for us because it really shows how we are true Americans. And how important we are. Especially when it comes to something as important as a postage stamp, which lives on forever.”
Johnny Cash, the country music superstar who was known as “The Man In Black,” is featured on the second stamp in the Music Icon series. That stamp features artwork based on a promo photo for his 1963 greatest hits collection “Ring of Fire: The Best of Johnny Cash.”
The Cash stamp was unveiled this month, coinciding with the opening of a new Johnny Cash museum in Nashville, Tennessee. To celebrate the stamp, an all-star revue of country musicians performed at the Ryman Auditorium, as the singer’s son, John Carter Cash, explains:
“Basically the ‘mother church of country music’ is what it’s known as. It’s where the original Grand Ol’ Opry was," he said. "There was an unveiling and a great musical show. It included The Oak Ridge Boys, Jamey Johnson, Marty Stuart, Randy Travis, Larry Gatlin, my sister Carlene Carter was there, and some other great performers and dear friends.”
Kathy Cash, one of Johnny Cash’s daughters from his first marriage, spoke at the ceremony. She told the crowd that during her parents’ courtship, her father was serving in the U.S. Air Force and was stationed in Germany. She estimated that her parents exchanged more than 10,000 letters during those years. John Carter Cash says that letter-writing tradition continued for the rest of his father’s life. And while the younger Cash often relies on email, it’s not likely he’ll step up to the post office counter and buy anything but a Johnny Cash stamp.
“No, I never will," he said. "I’ve already bought so many sheets that I’ll probably send out every bill for the next 30 years with this stamp!”
This isn’t the first time the U.S. Postal Service has issued music stamps. The Legends of American Music series began in 1993 with an Elvis stamp and went on to honor Broadway and film composers, jazz and blues artists, big bands, opera singers and more. There have also been stamps honoring Latin music legends, gospel singers and folk musicians. And there is one more to come in the Music Icon series this year. A Ray Charles stamp will be released in September.