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?!

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The Star, August 24, 1961

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