Every emoji has a history, and one of the most interesting involves Jamaican reggae legend Peter Tosh, who founded The Wailers band in the 1960s with Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer. In fact, the emoji for “levitating” – a tiny image of a man nattily dressed in a black suit, hat, and shades – was inspired by Tosh. His daughter, Niambe McIntosh, oversees the musician’s estate, and noted that her father’s work was more than just wanting people to dance; he wanted them to find their own political awakening. While she did not know of the emoji’s link to her father, she does know the photo of Marley, Wailer, and Tosh wearing suits that it is based on. Her brother Andrew was surprised to learn of the emoji connection as well.
The history of how reggae legend Peter Tosh ended up being immortalized as an emoji begins at the Seattle headquarters of the software company Microsoft in the mid-1990s when the personal computer revolution was in its infancy, and the typographer Vincent Connaire was working on creating new fonts. One of the scripts he designed was a picture-based font called Webdings that was used on early web pages.
Connaire, a music fan, was especially fond of the English ska revival band The Specials, which recorded on the 2 Tone Records label that used a logo based on an early photo of The Wailers. This photo depicts Peter Tosh standing back-to-back with Bob Marley, wearing a dark suit, bow tie, and sunglasses, staring out of the frame. Connaire adapted that logo some 20 years later for the Webdings script. This version showed the suited man jumping or pogoing. It was popular among fans of The Specials and was meant to represent the “jump” from one page to another. When Webdings were encoded as emoji years later and included on every smartphone and tech platform in the world, the suited man was included.
Connaire was the source of many other symbols as well, as he and the other designers “looked around and drew what we saw.” Expressing surprise at the legacy enjoyed by his designs, Connaire said, for example, that the boom box image was his boom box and the mountain symbol was Mount Rainier near Seattle.
All emoji are approved before being added to the official set by Silicon Valley-based group, Unicode.