By Jesse Robitaille
Canada Post today issued a stamp honouring late folk singer Stan Rogers, whose 1978 album Turnaround featured a song celebrating the iconic Bluenose schooner.
The stamp comes seven and a half months into a year in which sea shanties have taken social media by storm, with people singing their best renditions of iconic shanties (including Rogers’ “Bluenose” and “Barrett’s Privateers,” the latter of which was released a year earlier on the Fogarty’s Cove album).
“If they’re going after content that is really actually quite deep and has quite a storied tradition and has a lot of relevance, even today, I support that fully,” Nathan Rogers, Stan’s son, told CBC News this January in response to the shanty craze.
That month, Barrett’s Privateers – a shanty detailing the late 18th-century privateering industry – boasted a 250 per cent increase in streams, according to a report from Canadian music blogger Eric Alper.
“It’s great to see the work of incredible Canadian artists like Stan Rogers, Jimmy Rankin, and the Irish Rovers appreciated by a whole new generation,” said Geoff Kulawick, the president of True North Records, which owns Rogers’ catalogue. “It goes to show the power music and lyrical storytelling has when it comes to connecting people from all walks of life.”
SUMMERS IN NOVA SCOTIA
Born in Hamilton, Ont., on Nov. 29, 1949, Rogers spent many summer months in his mother’s hometown of Canso, N.S., where he drew inspiration from local Maritime music.
After teaching himself to play guitar, Rogers began his musical career at age 14 in a Hamilton coffee house, where he was paid $5 for his performance (of songs by U.S. country star Jimmie Rodgers). Known for his baritone voice and traditional Celtic-style songwriting, Rogers has 11 albums to his name, most of them posthumously released.
“Stan said things about people that were true. He loved talking and listening to people because he was interested in what they did and wanted to tell their story,” widow Ariel Rogers is quoted as saying in the latest edition of Canada Post’s Details magazine. “He had an incredible gift for taking that life experience and turning it almost like a prism, so you saw the essence of the person rather than just a reflection.”
Rogers was 33 and yet to gain widespread recognition when he died in a tragic airplane fire. On June 2, 1983, Rogers was on a return flight home from Texas, where he performed at the Kerrville Folk Festival. As an electrical fire erupted on the plane, the cabin filled with smoke and the pilots lost control of cockpit instruments, Chris Gudgeon and Andrew McIntosh wrote for the Canadian Encyclopedia. Despite an emergency landing in Kentucky, the evacuation was thwarted just 90 seconds later as a flash fire engulfed the plane when fresh oxygen entered the open exit doors. Rogers was among the 23 passengers who died that day.
“Rogers left a profound impact on Canadian music and culture,” added Gudgeon and McIntosh. “He was an early popularizer of traditional Celtic music, helping to pave the way for widespread acceptance of such artists as Spirit of the West, The Rankins, and Great Big Sea.”
Rogers’ recurring musical themes – “honour, loyalty and hope,” according to Gudgeon and McIntosh – were inspired by “historic and poetic aspects of the Canadian experience.”
Like most sea shanties, Rogers’ music opens a window to life hundreds of years ago, his brother Garnet told CBC News.
“You were learning about labour issues and strikes and workers’ problems,” said Garnet. “These were actual people who were speaking to us and it became part of our personal narrative.”
Starting in 1997, Rogers’ memory has been honoured through the Stan Rogers Folk Festival held in Canso. Known as “Stanfest,” it attracts about 10,000 fans each year (although the COVID-19 pandemic forced the 2020 and 2021 shows to be cancelled).
“To me, nearly 40 years after his death, his songs are vivid musical portraits from an era when people who worked with their hands – doing things like fishing, farming, and mining – were under great stress in a changing country that was becoming more urban,” wrote Mark McNeil for the Hamilton Spectator this May. “He wonderfully captured the human emotion of working people in small communities trying to cope.”
1980s PHOTO ON STAMP
Steven Slipp designed the Rogers stamp, with illustrations by Peter Strain based on photographs of the late artist performing at the Calgary Folk Festival in the early 1980s.
Ottawa’s Lowe-Martin printed 180,000 booklets of 10 stamps (1.8 million stamps altogether) using six-colour lithography. The issue also includes 8,000 official first-day covers serviced with Hamilton cancels.
Canada Post is also selling a limited run of 500 framed OFDCs and stamp enlargements.