Jamaican band the Skatalites started playing together as teenagers 46 years ago and never quit. Along the way, the group invented and popularized ska music — a mix of Jamaican folk, American big-band jazz, and New Orleans R&B — and laid the foundations for its successors, rocksteady and reggae. Not bad for a band whose members were orphans educated by Catholic nuns at Alpha Boys' School in Kingston. But they had the grit to endure not only rejection (when they were passed over for a slot at the 1964 World's Fair in New York) but also the untimely deaths of several members. Although Roland Alphonso, Tommy McCook, and Johnny Moore have passed on, founding drummer Lloyd Knibb, saxophonist Lester Sterling, and singer Doreen Shaffer carry original ska forward. The Skatalites still play tunes from their first album, Ska Authentic, cut in 1964, and Celebration Time, recorded soon after. Sure, the set list can be predictable — they've played hits like “Guns of Navarone,” “Latin Goes Ska,” and “Phoenix City” for decades. But recently they've added rocksteady numbers like “Swing Easy” and the scorcher “Real Rock” to their repertoire. Amazingly, they have outlasted nearly all of the bands they helped inspire.
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