Lorenzo Aitken (April 22, 1927 – July 17, 2005), born in Cuba is better known by the stage name Laurel Aitken, was an influential Caribbean singer and one of the pioneers of Jamaican Ska music. Laurel Aitken is also known as the “Godfather of Ska” and was the originator of Reggae music and a musical legend who brought his incredible music to England and lived for 35 years in the heart of Leicester and made a huge contribution to the cultural life of the City.
Laurel Aitken’s musical career spanned more than 50 years stretching back to 1938, when at the tender age of 11 years old, he won an “Opportunity Knocks” competition in Jamaica; sponsored by well-known Jamaican impresario and talent-spotter, Vere Johns.
- Invented Ska music and recorded the first ever Ska record.
- Gave Chris Blackwell his first hit on the famous Island record label.
- Came to England in 1961 and recorded the first ever ‘Blue Beat’ single causing the Mods to adopt the labels name as a description of this new music.
- Recorded for every major reggae record label including Trojan, Studio 1, Treasure Isle, and every producer including Coxsone Dodd and Duke Reid.
- The first Jamaican artist to record his own music, press the records and ship them around the world.
- Promoted racial integration in England in the difficult late 1960s.
- Had hit records in every decade from the 1950s to his death.
- Toured the world and spoke fluent Spanish, Italian, German and French.
Ska is a style of music that developed in Jamaica in the 1950s as a precursor to Reggae. Ska originated in Jamaica in the 1950s, just as the country gained independence from Britain. The musical style was influenced by American Jazz and R & B, which could be picked up on radios in Jamaica, thanks to US Army broadcasts intended for American soldiers who had been stationed nearby during the war. It has an easily recognisable style, characterised by bars made up of four triplets, with a definitive guitar chop on the offbeat. This is called an upstroke or skank. Ska music is typically quick, upbeat and exciting – made for dancing – featuring horns (commonly trumpet, saxophone, and trombone) that take the lead and follow the skank, as well as a piano or keyboard that emphasises the walking bass line. Drums tend to keep 4/4 time, but the 3rd beat of each 4-triplet phrase is accented by the bass drum and snare. Ska incorporates elements of traditional mento and calypso music, alongside American Jazz and R & B.
The legendary and international artist Laurel Aitken, a Leicester resident, was one of the celebrities who received an award at the Community Pioneers and Achievers Presentation evening at the African Caribbean Centre on Saturday, October 24 1998 during Black History Month.
Laurel Aitken died in Leicester at the age of 78 in July 2005 and he lived in Munnings Close, Belgrave, Leicester East from 1970 where a special commemorative Blue Plaque is now situated. In December 2007 an exhibition dedicated to the life and work of Laurel Aitken took place at New Walk Museum.
Laurel Aitken left a huge legacy and archive of music as well as positive energy in the world of Ska music.
Photograph of Laurel Aitken blue plaque taken with permission from Sandra Aitken.
Caribbean Focus, ‘Laurel Aitken’, March – April, 1986, p. 17.
History of Ska, http://thereggaskas.com/useful-information/history-of-ska/