29¢ Legends of American Music
Issue Date: June 16, 1993
City: Cleveland, OH or Santa Monica, CA
Printed By: Multicolor Corp. for American Bank Note Co.
Printing Method: Photogravure
Perforations: 11 horizontally
In 1993, the U.S. issued a set of seven stamps honoring Legends of American Music. The series was also issued in booklet form.
In 1956, Elvis Presley exploded on the music scene with his smash hit “Heartbreak Hotel”, and popular music was never the same again. Interestingly, the “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll” began as a country singer in Memphis, Tennessee. Influenced by the Grand Ole Opry and blues music he heard on the radio, Elvis made his first recordings, country backed with rhythm & blues, with Sun Records and began touring as a promising newcomer to the country and western field.
His talent in rhythm & blues, as well as pop music, led to offers by larger recording companies, including RCA Victor, whom Presley signed on with in 1955. “Heartbreak Hotel” was just the first of 45 records that would sell over one million copies each. In fact, he released 14 consecutive million-selling records before being drafted into the Army in 1958.
Following his discharge two years later, Elvis made his movie debut in Love Me Tender. Concentrating on his movie career throughout much of the 60’s, he went on to make 32 additional movies. During the late 60’s he began to moderate his rebellious rock ‘n’ roll style, moving toward more traditional melodies with slower rhythms. Although his audience had aged, it continued to expand until his death in 1977.
Bill Haley has been called the “father of the rock revolution.” Blazing new trails in both the U.S. and Europe, his success laid the groundwork for Elvis and other rising rock stars of the 1950’s.
Like so many other popular musicians of the day, Haley began his career in high school, where he organized his band (originally called the Saddlemen), which would play for dances, school events, and nearby clubs. Although they had their beginnings in the country music field, Haley and his band soon began adding Dixie, rhythm & blues, and pop - creating a whole new sound known as rock ‘n’ roll.
In 1954, he recorded Joe Turner’s hit “Shake, Rattle, and Roll”, which became a number-one best seller and placed Bill Haley and the Comets in the spotlight. A year later, his original composition “Rock Around the Clock” became one of the biggest selling singles in the world, reaching number one on the pop charts for seven weeks in a row. Featured as the theme song in the movie “Blackboard Jungle”, Haley’s song gave teenagers a music all their own. As other stars rose to prominence though, Haley eventually faded into the
When Clyde McPhatter joined Billy Ward and the Dominoes in 1950, he began a music career that would eventually lead to him becoming one of the biggest names of the rhythm & blues era. In 1953, he left the band to form his own group, the “Drifters.”
So called, because all of the members had drifted from one group to another before joining together, the Drifters became one of the most popular groups in the rhythm & blues field. Although he is best known as the leader of the Drifters, McPhatter actually recorded most of his best work as a solo artist.
He went into the Army in 1955, and the following year was discharged. However, rather than returning to the Drifters, he chose instead to concentrate on working as a soloist. His recordings of “Seven Days” and “Treasure of Love” became national pop hits, and helped him gain acceptance among white audiences, as well as the traditional rhythm & blues audience.
In 1958, he achieved his greatest success with his recording of “A Lover’s Question”, which climbed to the number one spot on the U.S. singles chart, selling more than one million copies. He toured widely during 1958 and 1959, and in 1968 his albums were re-released in England as part of a rock “revival.” His music however, remained popular through much of the sixties.
Only 17 when he died in the fatal plane crash that killed Buddy Holly and J.P. Richardson, Ritchie Valens was already one of the legends of the golden age of rock ‘n’ roll. Had he lived he likely would have been one of the most important artists of the 60’s.
Growing up near Los Angeles, California, young Richard Valenzuela showed a keen interest in music. Sitting with his uncles and cousins at family gatherings he learned to play the guitar, and his fascination with music grew. While in high school he joined local bands and began performing at dances and parties, sometimes presenting his own material.
In 1958 he recorded “Come On Let’s Go”, a song that became a regional hit and gained him a teen audience in other parts of the country. Shortly thereafter he wrote and recorded “Donna”, which rapidly climbed the 1958 charts to become a top-10 hit. Backed by his classic version of “La Bamba”, the recording earned a gold record for over one million copies sold. Today “La Bamba” has become a rock standard and is one of the few examples of Latin rock. In 1987, a movie by the same name was produced, and once again Ritchie was alive and well in memories of those who knew him.
Hailed as the “Monarch of Soul”, Otis Redding began his career in the early 60’s - a time when soul moved out of the rhythm & blues scene and into the rock ‘n’ roll circuit. Although he had dreamed of a professional singing career, he never believed the dream would become a reality.
When a chance trip took him to Memphis however, Redding’s childhood dream was fulfilled. As a chauffeur, he had agreed to drive a group from Macon, Georgia to Memphis for an audition with Stax Records, a rapidly growing rhythm & blues company.
It was after one recording that someone suggested he be given a chance to sing. He sang “These Arms of Mine”, which Stax Records recorded and released. It became first a local, and then a national rhythm & blues hit. In 1965 Redding recorded such major hits as “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” and “Respect.”
Ironically, his best known song, and only number one pop hit, was released after his death in 1967. A soul ballad, “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay” had been recorded three days before his plane crashed into a lake near Madison, Wisconsin enroute to an engagement. Released in 1968, it reached the charts in one month and stayed there for almost a year.
A close rival to Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly had an impact not only on American popular music, but also on the development of rock ‘n’ roll in England, influencing such groups as the Rolling Stones and the Beatles.
Born and raised in Texas, Charles Hardin Holly was initially influenced by the likes of Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family and had his beginnings as a country artist. Playing in small clubs in the Southwest, he gained a local following and was soon signed on by Decca records as a country singer.
But as rock ‘n’ roll swept over the country, Holly got caught up in the wave. Deciding he had greater potential as a rock artist, Decca had him record both solo and as the lead singer of a group called the Crickets. Both ventures proved to be extremely successful. In 1957 his song “Peggy Sue” hit the charts and the Crickets’ “That’ll Be the Day” sold over a million copies.
From 1955 to 1958, Holly and the Crickets had their own radio show and toured throughout the U.S. and abroad. It was on one such tour that Holly lost his life, along with Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson, when their plane crashed near Fargo, North Dakota.
Known as the “Queen of Blues”, Dinah Washington was one of the best-known and most popular female rhythm & blues singers during the 1950’s. And even after her death in 1963, she continued to dominate the top-10 charts.
Born Ruth Jones, she began her music career singing in the church choir. However, like many teens of that era, she also enjoyed the music of the big bands, and often sang for her friends and high school audiences. It was these performances that led her to join Lionel Hampton’s band in 1943. After touring with his band for a few years, she struck out on her own, and within a few months had become one of the most popular rhythm & blues singers of the day.
In 1950, she began the new decade with several top-10 hits, including “What a Diff’rence a Day Made”, “This Bitter Earth”, and “Unforgettable”, and continued with new hits until 1959. The following year she teamed up with Brook Benton to form one of the best duos of the era. Their single “Baby (You Got What It Takes)” was a smash hit in both the U.S. and Europe, making Washington an international star as well. In 1963, while resting at home between tours, she died suddenly of a heart seizure, abruptly ending her career.