Each emoji has a story, and one of the most interesting involves Jamaican reggae legend Peter Tosh, who founded The Wailers in the 1960s with Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer. In fact, the emoji for “levitating” – a small image of a handsome man in a black suit, hat, and sunglasses – was inspired by Tosh. His daughter, Niambe McIntosh, oversees the musician’s estate, and noted that her father’s job was more than just wanting people to dance; he wanted them to find their own political awakening. While she doesn’t know the emoji’s connection to her father, she does know the photo of Marley, Wailer, and Tosh wearing costumes she’s based on. His brother Andrew was also surprised to learn of the emoji connection.
The story of how reggae legend Peter Tosh came to be 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 typographer Vincent Connaire was working on creating new fonts. One of the scripts he designed was an image-based font called Webdings, used on early web pages.
Connaire, a music fan, was particularly fond of English revival ska band The Specials, which recorded on the 2 Tone Records label which used a logo based on a first photo of the Wailers. This photo shows Peter Tosh standing back to back with Bob Marley, wearing a dark suit, bow tie and sunglasses, looking out of the frame. Connaire adapted this logo some 20 years later for the Webdings script. This version showed the man in the suit jumping or pogo. He was popular with fans of The Specials and was meant to represent the “jump” from page to page. When webdings were coded as an emoji years later and included on every smartphone and tech platform around the world, the man in a suit was included.
Connaire was the originator of many other symbols as well, as he and the other designers “looked around and drew what we saw.” Expressing surprise at the legacy his designs enjoy, 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.