Delta Blues Stamps | Information Design
Seven years ago I found myself in a seemingly abandoned strip of downtown Clarksdale, Mississippi. An hour south of Oxford, my then-boyfriend’s college town, the two of us were waiting in line outside a blues club. After a few minutes, we stepped into a tiny room drenched in red light. Old, ratty oriental rugs covered the dirt floors. I grabbed the only stool available and sat in anticipation of the music I had been promised. A man no younger than eighty took the stage. He was dressed to the nines, in a fancy suit and beautiful leather shoes, and began playing. I was completely mesmerized. It was the first time I’d experienced blues music the way it was written to be heard. The pain expressed in the lyrics was palpable, but so was the beauty. That night marked the beginning of a long fascination and appreciation of the Delta blues music tradition. I designed these stamps as an exploration of the relationship blues music has with its geographic origin. While the blues are appreciated worldwide and made famous by The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin, and many others, its roots are in the nameless and faceless slaves working under the hot, southern Delta sun.
Postage stamps are one of the most ubiquitous forms of design and are used as an effective storytelling platform for commemorating a country’s heritage. While often overlooked, postage stamps play a large role in reflecting and preserving a nation’s culture. This stamp set explores the rise and spread of blues music throughout America.
Using the entire surface of the 1”x1.5" U.S. Postage Stamp, the lyrics of six bluesmen cut through a landscape composed of varied shades of blue. Individually, each stamp showcases a poignant line belonging to a famous Delta blues song; when arranged together, the lyrics collectively form the beautiful, winding topography of the Mississippi River.
The blues is more than a music genre; it’s a state of mind, a color, a dialogue between the musician and his audience. The blues is the long, winding river from which American music flows. Arising out of the worst conditions of deprivation and hardship, the first blues musicians put their pain into music and in turn created an art form that transcended race, culture, and class. As Wynton Marsalis puts it, “Everything comes out in blues music: joy, pain, struggle. Blues is affirmation with absolute elegance. It’s about a man and a woman. So the pain and the struggle in the blues is that universal pain that comes from having your heart broken.” It’s about having your heart broken, but also finding the resilience to move forward in spite of the pain. The blues is not for the weak of heart, rather it’s for the survivors, the fighters, and the people willing to transform painful experience into something beautiful.
Just as there are many shades of blue, there are many kinds of blues music. The accompanying stamp booklet further explores the roots of the Mississippi Delta blues tradition, revealing how the stories of six Delta blues musicians are written into the landscape of modern American music and culture.
listen to the six songs featured in the stamps here: