Prince of Soul Marvin Gaye Makes His Stamp on History

The United States Postal Service (USPS) announced plans in November to unveil a Marvin Gaye stamp and featured the stamp on its Instagram page during Black History Month. The stamp foregrounding Howard Theatre in Washington, DC, one of the venues at which Gaye performed. With hits like “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing,” “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” and “Too Busy Thinking About My Baby,” Gaye helped to shape the buoyant sound of the Motown record label in the 1960s,” the USPS’s announcement read. The USPS further stated that “Gaye’s presence and unique sound will live on forever through his music and now through the mail.” Gaye is the latest Black musician to be featured in the USPS’s Music Icon series.

The USPS first issued commemorative stamps in the late 1800s. In 1940, Booker T. Washington was the first African American to appear on a USPS stamp, while Harriet Tubman was the first Black woman to do so in 1978. That year, the USPS launched the Black Heritage Series, which is part of a broader history of African Americans who have appeared on postage stamps. Jimi Hendrix was the last Black musician in the Music Icons series when the USPS issued his stamp in 2014.

Gaye biographer Michael Eric Dyson commented, “I have constantly turned to Marvin’s music to lift my spirits and to travel with him over the vast landscape of human experience that he traversed.” Music critic David Ritz echoed Dyson’s observation about the ongoing significance of Gaye’s music: “His songs were prayers, meditations, strategies for survival.”

Such vivid descriptions of the deep meaning of Gaye’s music also apply to artist Kadir Nelson’s work, whose beautiful profile of Gaye inspired the stamp. Nelson’s captivating art delves deeply across Black history’s broad canvas and also includes additional pieces on Gaye. USPS art director Derry Noyes transformed Nelson’s art into a stamp.

The Marvin Gaye forever stamp will be officially unveiled on April 2, which would have been the late music icon’s 80th birthday.

About the Author

Phillip Luke Sinitiere is a Sections Editor at The North Star. He is a historian who writes on race, religion, culture, and society. He teaches history and humanities at the College of Biblical Studies, a predominately Black school located in Houston’s Mahatma Gandhi District. Sinitiere is the author or editor of several books including Protest and Propaganda: W. E. B. Du Bois, The Crisis, and American History; Salvation with a Smile: Joel Osteen, Lakewood Church, and American Christianity; and Citizen of the World: The Late Career and Legacy of W. E. B. Du Bois.