#JesterHairston - 20k Signatures - Black History Postage Stamp

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Jennifer Blannon
Jennifer Blannon signed this petition


We have seen and used the Black Heritage Stamps. Over the past seventy years, Black Americans in various fields have been honored on United States postage stamps. Missing from that distinguished group is Jester Joseph Hairston, an African American actor, musician, music arranger, composer, traveling choir conductor, story teller, and member of Holman United Methodist Church. 'The Holman Choir's Jester Hairston Scholarship Committee has decided to petition the Black Heritage Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee to correct the omission. Your help is needed to collect 20,000 signatures for our Postage Stamp Petition. Petitions will be available for you to sign and to take for others to sign. Your support is needed to reach our goal.

Jester Joseph Hairston was born July 9, 1901, on a plantation in Belews Creek, North Carolina and died at 99 years of age on January 18, 2000 in Los Angeles, California. He achieved fame in unlikely areas during his long career. Known as "The Amen Man," based on the spiritual, Amen, which he popularized, Jester Hairston was devoted to keeping Negro Spirituals alive. Hairston was one of the world's foremost preservers of the spirituals emanating from the Negro slaves. For a number of years, he was assistant director to Hall Johnson's internationally famous Hall Johnson Choir, a choir dedicated to preserving the original flavor of the slaves'
music. Perhaps more than anyone else, Hairston trained adult choirs and young children around the world how to sing these wonderful songs of black people known as ‘spirituals’. The grandson of slaves, Hairston’s first love was the Negro Spiritual. For 60 years he had arranged and composed spirituals and conducted choirs. He arranged approximately 300 spirituals, including Elijah Rock, Poor Man Lazarus and In Dat Great Gittin' Up Morning, and has taken his music around the world, occasionally as a goodwill ambassador for the U.S. State Department. In 1991, he conducted an international chorus of 25,000 singers in Estonia. When working with students at college workshops, Hairston would tell them, "You can't sing legato when the master's beatin' you across your back." He was a sought-after choral director who organized Hollywood's first integrated choir. Hairston's big break came in 1936, when Russian-born composer and conductor Dimitri Tiomkin asked him to conduct the choir in the film Lost Horizon, which won an Oscar for best score. That began a 20-year collaboration with Tiomkin, who inspired him to form the first integrated choir used in films including Red River, She Wore A Yellow Ribbon and Land Of The Pharaohs. Opportunities expanded for Hairston during his acting career. His motion picture film credits included To Kill A Mockingbird, Lady Sings The Blues, In The Heat Of The Night, The Alamo and Road To Zanzibar. In the movie, Lilies Of The Field, for which he composed the song Amen, it was Jester's voice that was overdubbed for Sidney Poitier's singing of that song. It was that song which reflected Hairston's lifelong dedication to preserving old Negro spirituals. Although many of his early acting jobs portrayed less than flattering images of blacks, Hairston never
apologized for playing racial stereotypes. Although he never completed his studies at Massachusetts Agriculture College (MAC), Hairston maintained strong ties with the university and in 1972, he was awarded an honorary doctorate degree. He was also the recipient of an honorary doctorate degree from Tufts University that same year. He also received honorary degrees from two other universities. Twenty years later at age 91, he returned to the MAC campus to receive the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Department of Music and Dance. Even in his 90s, he continued to conduct choirs, crisscrossing the world as a goodwill ambassador for the U.S. State Department. Multi-talented, Hairston was a movie, television and radio actor, and a choral director for Hollywood movie soundtracks. "We had a hard time, then, fighting for dignity," he said years later. "We had no power. We had to take it, and because we took it the young people today have opportunities."