Lorenzo Aitken (April 22, 1927 – July 17, 2005), better known as Laurel Aitken, was a singer and one of the originators of Jamaican ska music. He is often referred to as the “Godfather of ska”.
Born in Cuba of mixed Cuban and Jamaican descent, Aitken and his family settled in Jamaica in 1938. After an early career working for the Jamaican Tourist Board singing mento songs for visitors arriving at Kingston Harbour, he became a popular nightclub entertainer. His first recordings in the late 1950s were mento tunes such as “Nebuchnezer”, “Sweet Chariot” (aka the gospel classic “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”) and “Baba Kill Me Goat”. Progressing to a pre-ska shuffle, Aitken’s 1958 single “Little Sheila”/”Boogie in My Bones” was one of the first records produced by Chris Blackwell, who founded his Island Records label that year, and the first Jamaican popular music record to be released in the United Kingdom. Other rock and roll singles from this period include “Low Down Dirty Girl”, “Drinkin’ Whisky” and “More Whisky”, produced by Duke Reid.
Aitken moved to Brixton, London in 1960 and recorded for the Blue Beat label, releasing fifteen singles before returning to Jamaica in 1963. He recorded for Duke Reid, with backing from The Skatalites on tracks such as “Zion” and “Weary Wanderer”, before returning to the UK, where he began working with Pama Records. He recorded hits such as “Fire in Mi Wire” and “Landlord and Tenants”, which led to a wider recognition outside of Jamaica and the UK. This cemented his position as one of ska’s leading artists and earned him the nicknames The Godfather of Ska, and later Boss Skinhead. He gained a loyal following not only among the West Indian community, but also among mods, skinheads and other ska fans. He had hit records in the United Kingdom and other countries in the 1950s through to the 1970s on labels such as Blue Beat, Pama, Trojan, Rio, Dr. Bird, Nu-Beat, Ska-Beat, and Dice.
Some of his singles featured B-sides credited to his brother, guitarist Bobby Aitken. Aitken also recorded a few talk-over/deejay tracks under the guise of ‘King Horror’, such as “Loch Ness Monster”, “Dracula, Prince of Darkness”, and “The Hole”. Aitken settled in Leicester with his wife in 1970. His output slowed in the 1970s and during this period he worked as an entertainer in nightclubs and restaurants in the area including the popular ‘Costa Brava Restaurant’ in Leicester under his real name Lorenzo. In 1980, with ska enjoying a resurgence in the wake of the 2 Tone movement, Aitken had his first success in the UK Singles Chart with “Rudi Got Married” (#60). Aitken’s career took in mento/calypso, R&B, ska, rock steady, and reggae, and in the 1990s he even turned his talents to dancehall. He performed occasional concerts almost until his death from a heart attack in 2005. After a long campaign, a blue plaque in his honour was put up at his Leicester home in 2007.