What’s In a Name? The Skatalites

Perhaps you have heard that the name “The Skatalites” came from a play on the words “ska” and “satellites.” It’s true. It was the height of the Space Age and satellites were in the news. The Soviets had launched the first satellite in orbit, Sputnik 1, in 1957. Others followed, including Sputnik 2 a month later with Laika the dog inside. In 1958, the U.S. launched their first satellite, Explorer 1, followed that same year by Sputnik 3 and the race was clearly on. In Jamaica, coverage of these satellites and subsequent satellites was substantial. It is no wonder that the members of what would become The Skatalites would have been influenced to name their group of musicians after the popular culture of the day. In an interview conducted by Journalist Claudia Junqueira with long-time Skatalites Manager Ken Stewart, he explains, “At the time the band started it was the beginning of the space exploration era and the Russians launched the Sputnik satellite and the Americans started launching their rockets, etc. Someone suggested the name Satellites but Tommy McCook said, ”No it’s ska we play so let’s call it Ska-talites.” Song titles were also often named for current events of the day. The band would record a tune in the studio and look for a name and many times would pick something relevant to what was going on in the world outside. Songs like Christine Keiler, Lee Harvey Oswald, President Kennedy, Nuclear Weapon, Fidel Castro, all had names talking about the news of the day, even thought they were instrumentals with no lyrics.”

The following is a sample of the some of the coverage of satellites in The Star which likely would have influenced Tommy and the others to name their band The Skatalites. Perhaps their eyes gazed in wonder upon these very articles. A romantic notion? Perhaps, but what is the story of ska without a bit of wonder?!

scan0010scan0008scan0009 editThe Star, August 24, 1961

Ronnie Nasralla’s First Dance Partner, Evelyn Andrade

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Before Ronnie Nasralla danced the ska in the iconic step-by-step guides with Jeannette Phillips (above), his dance partner was Evelyn Andrade, Miss West Indies. I recently spoke with the Honorable Arnold Foote, OJ, CD, JP at his home in Kingston who confirmed that Nasralla’s original dance partner was Andrade. “They were a dance couple,” he told me. “It was Evelyn first. She was gorgeous. W were very close friends. She was a fabulous dancer. Jeannette Phillips was a good dancer too, but she was after,” said Foote.

Numerous articles and advertisements confirm this. A Daily Gleaner article on November 7, 1953 gave a review of a show in which the two had danced. The article states, “Horace Forbes and his group of young artists, including Jamaica’s Beauty Queen Evelyn Andrade who appeared at the Carib Theatre on Wednesday night Nov. 18, by kind permission of Mr. Tilly Blackman, can be proud of themselves. They put on a neat and varied half hour’s show, that was a great deal better than most cabaret imports from the United States. . . . The stars of the show, Ronnie Nasralla and Evelyn Andrade then came on and danced ‘Harlem  Nocturne.’ It was a stylized version, very Dunhamish of blues and swing dancing and extremely effective. What a good interpretative dancer Andrade is becoming and how well Ronnie is supporting her.  The show ended, (happily it was not too long), with Evelyn Andrade, Ronnie Nasralla and Tony Verity dancing the Rhumba, the Conga, and the Mambo to the Buckcteers accompaniment. It was here that one realized how much better our local starlet dances than some of the Cubans, who have visited the island in the past couple of years. Ronnie supported Andrade well again, but Tony Verity though assiduously following the steps, does not really seem at home in this style of dancing. I wonder, if his metier does not lie rather in the easy up dancing manner of Jack Hulbert and Jack Buchanan, a type of dancing in which height helps rather than handicaps. This show, I gather, is going on shortly to the Glass Bucket Club, and deserves every encouragement.”

Evelyn Andrade went on to marry Tony Verity who became a famous Jamaican emcee. You may remember him from this ska film at the Sombrero Club featuring Byron Lee & the Dragonaires and the ska dancers. He is the host that starts the film. Tony Verity later went on to marry Byron Lee’s first wife, Edna, also known as Bibi, with whom Byron had three children.

The following is a short piece that appeared in JET magazine, May 26, 1955 that announced Evelyn Andrade’s marriage to Tony Verity.

andrade jet magazine may 26 1955

Evelyn Andrade also danced with Nasralla’s sister Jeanette with the Rowe Studio of Dancing doing ballet performances at the Carib Theatre. This sister Jeanette Nasralla is not to be confused with Jeannette Phillips who later became Jeanette Mills. Over the years, Evelyn Andrade and Ronnie Nasralla danced at a number of performances, including “Caramba” that featured Jeanette Nasralla, Tony Verity, Totlyn Jackson, and Lord Tickler. The following is an advertisement from this show from the Daily Gleaner on October 15, 1955.

andrade oct 15 1955

The following is a photo of this performance featuring Ronnie Nasralla and Evelyn Andrade from JET magazine, August 19, 1954.

andrade jet magazine aug 19 1954

Over the years, Ronnie Nasralla and Evelyn Andrade continued to perform together, including the performance below from March 26, 1955.

andrade march 26 1955

In 1959 they performed together in a performance of “Hey There” which also included Tony Verity, Jeanette Nasralla, and recording artist Sheila Rickards.

andrade dec 24 1959 andrade dec 9 1959

 

According to Josh Bailey, owner of the Veestarz website devoted to beauty pageants, Evelyn Andrade was the “first black admitted to a major international beauty contest. An accomplished dancer and swimmer, with a 36-24-26 figure, 18 year old Miss West Indies of 1954, Evelyn Andrade became the first colored woman admitted to a major white beauty contest in the United States. Her father was a Syrian Jew and her mother was a black native from Kingston. After the Miss Universe contest, Evelyn represented Jamaica in the ‘Miss Caribbean’ contest in Trinidad and won before an audience of 4,000.”

 

Evelyn Andrade died in May, 2013. The Jamaica Gleaner reported, “Former Miss Jamaica and Miss British Caribbean Evelyn Nalley has passed away. One of her daughters, Kim Merril, said Nalley had not been well for a few months. She described Nalley, who first came to national prominence as Evelyn Andrade, as a vivacious, happy woman. ‘She loved her family, she loved her country of Jamaica, though we hadn’t lived there for many years,’ Merril said. ‘It was always in the back of her heart and her mind to always go home.’ Nalley was married twice, first to popular Jamaican entertainer Anthony Verity and then to businessman Hayne Nalley. The former beauty queen moved to Puerto Rico with her second husband and their family before settling in Winter Haven, Florida, in 1972. Merril said her mother would be cremated. ‘She basically wanted her ashes to be put in the ocean,’ Merril said. ‘So that’s what we will be doing. The ocean was always close to her heart.’ In the September 9, 1954 issue of JET magazine, Nalley was featured in the cover story as ‘The beauty queen who snubbed Hollywood’.”

Here is a copy of that JET magazine that I found and purchased on ebay.

 

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Here is a photo spread that the Daily Gleaner ran on July 23, 1954:

andrade gleaner

Here is an article from Hue Magazine, November 1954 that shows Evelyn Andrada hobnobbing, or flirting, with Tony Curtis!

andrade hue magazine november 1954

 

 

The photo and caption below from JET magazine July 22, 1954 also publicizes\ the Jamaican beauty.

andrade jet magazine july 22 1954

Bailey has posted a number of archival photos of Andrade, including the following:

andrade14 andrade13 andrade12 andrade11 andrade10 andrade9 andrade2 andrade3 andrade4 andrade5 andrade6 andrade7 andrade8 andrade1

Stranger and Patsy, Together on Stage Again!

I had the honor and pleasure of seeing Stranger Cole take the stage again with his performance partner Millicent “Patsy” Todd in Minneapolis on May 13th. I spent the entire weekend with this classy couple and enjoyed sharing a drink and hearing their stories of touring, recording, and even how to properly say, “Rahtid!” Stranger said his favorite song to perform with Patsy is “Yeah Yeah Baby,” while Patsy said her favorite duet is “Come Back.” Stranger is warm, vivacious, full of positive energy and Patsy is centered, calm, and full of strength. The two of them together are the perfect combination–in their music, their performance, and in their friendship. Below are some photos I took during the weekend and their performance. Click HERE TO SEE THEM PERFORM DOWN THE TRAIN LINE from this show, HERE TO SEE THEM PEFORM TONIGHT and HERE TO SEE PATSY PERFORM PATA PATA ROCKSTEADY. Also performing during the weekend event was Phil Chen of the Vagabonds who went on to perform guitar with such legends as The Who, Rod Stewart, Traffic, and countless others. Click HERE to read my prior post on Stranger Cole, and HERE to read my prior post about Patsy.

stranger and patsy

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Jamaican Rock–Big Sound on U.S. Pop Scene

ja on us

We may be aware that music from the United States in the 1950s and 1960s had a profound influence on Jamaican music, but sometimes we forget about the impact that Jamaican music had on United States popular music. Sure we know that Millie Small hit U.S. charts in 1964 (as she did charts all over the world) in conjunction with the promotion of ska at the World’s Fair that same year, but those were merely sparks that never really took flame. And sure reggae music grew in popularity through the passion and poignancy of Bob Marley in the late 1970s, and ska music became hugely popular in the 1990s (largely through the popularity of bands in the U.K.) but here is an article that shows that as early at 1973, Jamaican music was starting to pick up steam in the U.S. This article originally ran in Newsweek Magazine and was then published in the Daily Gleaner on February 17, 1973. It is an interesting look back at this critical time in history from the perspective of an American in the era.

The article, by Maureen Orth, states: Second only to the influence of American blacks in popular music have been the various beats emerging from south of the border; conga, calypso, rhumba, samba, bossa nova. And just as the samba was spawned in the favelas, the shantytown ghettos of Rio de Janeiro, the next big sound in American may well emerge from the zinc and tarpaper shanties of Jamaica. The music is called reggae (rhyme, with leg-gay), an infectious, up-tempo ‘body music’ meant to be danced to. Blaring from jukeboxes, record stores, transistors strapped to bicycles, and, from the travelling open-air- discotheques called “sound systems”, reggae’s pulsating rock beat saturates the island and propels a growing record industry that is making Jamaica the ‘in’ place for British and American stars to record. Reggae owes its origins to a fortuitous combination of calypso and the blues and, like the blues, reggae lyrics frequently record the suffering and anger born of a long history of slavery, poverty and powerlessness. “Reggae is a music of rebellion,” says Prince Buster, a Jamaican disc jockey and record producer. “It is the music of a people who were not given their fair share, a people who have to fight against society for their rights.” Just as often, however, the reggae beat is
sensual and happy, as much a means of escape as an instrument of protest.

SKA: Reggae and its two previous incarnations called “ska” then “rock steady” have been on British charts since the mid-’60s, and last year a reggae song, “Life Is Just For Living” by Jamaican artist, Ernie Smith, won the Tokyo International Song Contest. But relatively few reggae songs have been hits in the U.S. The first big one was in 1964 when Millie Small sang “My Boy Lollipop”, and lately the Staple Singers’ “I’ll Take You There” copied the rhythm track of a Jamaican hit. Perhaps the best known reggae song is Paul Simon’s “Mother and Child Reunion” and currently Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now” has neared two million sales. Jamaica received the ultimate cache when the Rolling Stones came down to record their forthcoming album. Rock stars Leon Russell, Elton John and Cat Stevens are putting reggae rhythm tracks on their latest LP’s, and Harry Belafonte is putting out a number of pure reggae albums. U.S. record moguls are sending scouts to Jamaica but they often pen outside Jamaica. “Americans are amazed we can get so much bass on our records,” says Hugh Hendricks, a young reggae musician who’s just opened a studio in Brooklyn. “I really don’t know how we do it.”

DREAM: Reggae songs that are hits in the U.S., however, are usually too tame for Jamaica. But now the Wailers, one of reggae’s oldest groups, who bill themselves as the “Voice of the People” have just had their album “The Wailers” released here. And U.S. audiences can get a taste of the life that breeds the rhythm of reggae in Jamaica’s first feature film, “THE HARDER THEY COME”, starring one of Jamaica’s best-known reggae
singers, Jimmy Cliff. The film is the story of a country boy lured to Kingston, the capital, by the dream of making it in music, only to end up ripped off by a crooked record producer, forced to deal in ganja (pot) to keep from starving and ending up an infamous criminal. Like the character he plays, Cliff is a country boy who was never paid for his first record. Even today young Jamaican singers sometimes are forced to take a pittance for the chance to record one of their own songs, frequently receiving no royalties if it becomes a hit. Despite these obstacles, making a reggae record is one of the few ways a poverty-stricken Jamaican can make it, and lines of people patiently stand outside recording studios waiting for a producer to listen to their tunes.

Reggae is not popular with Jamaica’s upper and middle classes . These people who are English-oriented in their speech, dress and manners, find the music uncouth in its use of patios and a dangerous influence in the increasing social unrest and tension between the island’s poor and affluent. They worry because their children listen to the popular disc jockeys who talk about freedom and play reggae songs like this:
Well the oppressors are trying to keep me down
Trying to drive me underground
And they think that they have got the battle won.
I say forgive them Lord they know not what they’ve done
Cause as sure as the sun will shine
I’m gonna get my share now what’s mine.
The harder they come
The harder they fall, one and all