Local People

Published on September 5th, 2017 | by Rafael Alvarez


Bluesman Graces New Mississippi Bicentennial Statehood Stamp

“Smell that sweet magnolia blooming….”
—Bob Dylan

The last time the United States Postal Service honored Mississippi statehood with a stamp—back in 1967 when “Ode to Billy Joe” hit number one on the charts—it cost a nickel to mail a first-class letter.

Fifty years later, Mississippi is celebrating the 200th anniversary of statehood and now—if your baby wants to write you a letter—all she’ll get back from a Kennedy half-dollar is a penny. The post office has once again honored the Great Magnolia State with a commemorative stamp and this one features a black man in overalls picking an acoustic guitar.

The musician is Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, born in 1947 in Bentonia, Mississippi—the Yazoo County home to Skip James and an area known for a hypnotic, mournful rendering of the blues. The stamp was created from a photograph of Holmes taken in June 2009 by Lou Bopp. It was designed by USPS art director Greg Breeding.

“I took the photo in front of Duck’s juke joint in Bentonia during a blues festival,” said Bopp, who works out of New York and St. Louis and has photographed much of the Mississippi Blues Trail. “Anytime I shoot a real-deal blues musician on stage it feels historic.”

In addition to the 1967 stamp, which features a magnolia blossom against a teal background, there have been four other U.S. postage stamps honoring the 20th state.

The others honor the bicentennial of the “Mississippi Territory,” (3 cents, 1948); “Magnolia and Mockingbird” (20 cents, 1983); “Greetings from Mississippi,” (34 cents, 2002); and “State Flag,” (44 cents, 2009.)

[While not specifically a “Mississippi” stamp, the postal service honored “Father of the Blues,” and Hazelhurst native Robert Johnson with a 29-cent stamp in 1994.]

The bicentennial statehood stamp was officially released in early March at a ceremony in Gulfport—at which Duck Holmes performed—and selected with the help of the Mississippi Statehood Commission.

“The image [a close-up of Holmes’ hands] stood out both because of its strength and because it spoke to the rich musical heritage of Mississippi,” said William Gicker, manager of stamp development for the postal service in Washington.

And they have appeared on most of the old-fashioned mail that Lou Bopp has sent out this year.
“Friends and family have been letting me know when they see the stamps in post offices around the country,” said Bopp. “It’s always a surprise.”

A former staff writer for the HBO drama, The Wire, Rafael Alvarez writes often about the blues. He can be reached via orlo.leini@gmail.com. The Local Voice Ligature

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About the Author

Rafael Alvarez is a reporter, short story writer & screenwriter based in Baltimore. He has been visiting & writing about Mississippi since 1984. A former staff writer for HBO's "The Wire," his new book is a collection of short fiction called "Tales From the Holy Land."

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