Robert Nesta Marley
OM (February 6, 1945 – May 11, 1981) better known as Bob Marley, was a Jamaican singer, guitarist, songwriter, Rastafarian and activist. He is the most widely known writer and performer of Reggae music, famous for popularizing the genre outside of Jamaica. Much of his music dealt with the struggles of the impoverished and gave a voice to the oppressed around the world while spreading messages of hope and unity. His songs, expressing his experiences of struggle and everyday life in Jamaica in a relatable way for all people, encouraged a positive way of living while rooted in truth, making his music universally loved.
Early life and career
Bob Marley was born on Tuesday, February 6, 1945 in the small village of Nine Miles, Saint Ann, Jamaica. His father, Norval Sinclair Marley, was born in Jamaica in 1895 to English parents who originated from Sussex, south east England. Norval Sinclair Marley was a Marine officer and captain, and also a plantation overseer when he married Bob’s mother, Cedella Booker, an eighteen-year-old black Jamaican girl. Norval provided financial support for his wife and child, but he seldom saw his son as he was often away on trips. Norval Sinclair Marley died of a heart attack in 1955, age 60, when Bob was just 10 years old. Bob Marley faced questions about his own racial identity throughout his life with a white English father and a black mother, especially when Jamaica was experiencing racial tension in the 1960s. He reflects: "I don’t have prejudice against myself. My father was a white and my mother was black. Them call me half-caste or whatever. Me don’t dip on nobody’s side. Me don’t dip on the black man’s side nor the white man’s side. Me dip on Gods side, the one who create me and cause me to come from black and white."
Bob Marley was raised by his mother, Cedella Marley, who moved them to Kingston's Trench town slum after her husband’s death. At the time he had to learn self-defense since he was bullied because of his racial makeup and his height (he was 5ft. 4.in (163 cm.) tall); he gained a reputation for being strong and fierce for his physical constitution, which earned him the nickname Tuff Gong.
Bob Marley became friends with Neville Bunny Livingston (aka Bunny Wailer) with whom Marley started to play music. Bob Marley left school at the age of 14 and started as an apprentice at a local welders shop, while spending his free time with Livingston, making music with Joe Higgs, a local singer and devout Rastafarian whom many critics regard as Marley’s true mentor. It was at one of the sessions with Higgs that Marley and Livingston met Peter McIntosh (later known as Peter Tosh) who also had musical ambitions.
In 1962 Bob Marley recorded his first two singles, Judge Not and One Cup of Coffee, produced by Leslie Kong, a local music producer. The singles attracted little attention at that time. Both were later re-released in the album Songs of Freedom.
In 1963, Bob Marley, Bunny Livingston, Peter McIntosh, Junior Braithwaite, Beverley Kelso and Cherry Smith formed a SKA and ROCKSTEDY group, calling themselves The Teenagers which became The Wailing Rudeboys, The Wailing Wailers and finally shortened to The Wailers. Braithwaite, Kelso and Smith had left The Wailers by 1966, leaving the trio of Marley, Livingston, and McIntosh.
Bob Marley soon took on the role of the leader, being the main songwriter and singer. Much of The Wailers early work, including their first single Simmer Down, was produced by Coxsone Dodd at Studio One. The single topped Jamaican Charts in 1964 and established The Wailers as one of the hottest groups in Jamaica. They followed up with songs like Soul Rebel and 400 Years. In 1966, Bob Marley married Rita Anderson, and stayed for a few months in the Wilmington, Delaware in the United States where his mother was then living. Upon returning to Jamaica and The Wailers, Marley began practicing Rastafari and started to wear dreadlocks (See the section Religion for more on Marley’s religiousness).
After a conflict with Coxsone Dodd, Marley and his band teamed up with Lee Scratch Perry and his studio band, The Upsetters. Although the alliance lasted less than a year, they recorded what many consider the finest work by The Wailers. Marley and Perry split after a dispute regarding the assignment of recording rights. However, they would work together again and remain friends.
Between 1968 and 1972, Bob and Rita Marley, Peter McIntosh, and Bunny Livingston re-cut some old tracks with JAD Records in Kingston and London, in an attempt to commercialize The Wailers sound. Bunny Livingston later said, [t]hey should never be released on an album....they were just demos for record companies to listen to.
The Wailers first album, Catch A Fire was released worldwide in 1973, and sold well. It was followed a year later by Burnin which included Get Up, Stand Up and I Shot The Sheriff, of which a cover version by Eric Clapton became a hit in 1974.
The Wailers broke up in 1974, with each of the three main members going on to pursue solo careers. The reason for the break-up of The Wailers is questionable. Some believe that there were disagreements amongst Livingston, McIntosh, and Marley concerning performances, and others that Livingston and McIntosh wished to continue their music careers on their own. Peter McIntosh began recording under the name Peter Tosh, and Bunny Livingston as Bunny Wailer.
Bob Marley & the Wailers
After the demise of The Wailers, Bob Marley went on recording as Bob Marley & The Wailers, with Wailers Band, which included the brothers Aston Family Man Barrett and Carlton Barrett on bass and drums, as well as Junior Marvin, Tyrone Downie, Earl Wya Lindo and Al Anderson. The backing vocalists were the I Threes, which included Marley’s wife Rita, Judy Mowatt and Marcia Griffiths.
In 1975, Marley had his international breakthrough with his first own hit outside Jamaica, No Woman, No Cry, from the Natty Dread album. This was followed by Rastaman Vibration which was his breakthrough album in the US, spending four weeks in the Top Ten of the Billboard charts.
In 1976, just two days before a scheduled free concert, Smile Jamaica, Bob Marley and Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley had organized in the run up to the general election, Marley, his wife Rita, and manager Don Taylor, were shot inside the Marley home. Marley received minor injuries in the arm and chest. Don Taylor and Rita were seriously injured, but fully recovered. Marley’s purpose for Smile Jamaica was to lessen tension between two warring political groups. It is believed that the shooting was politically motivated as the concert was seen as being in support of Michael Manley. Surprisingly, Marley, who was still injured, performed at the concert.
Marley said in interviews after the incident that he had found out who the would-be-assassin was but had not informed the police, instead had forgiven the man concerned.
Bob Marley left Jamaica at the end of 1976, and went to England, where he recorded both Exodus and Kaya. Exodus stayed on the British charts for 56 straight weeks. It included four UK hit singles, Exodus, Waiting In Vain, Jamming, and One Love, a version of Curtis Mayfields hit People Get Ready.
In 1978 Marley performed another political concert on Jamaican soil, again in an effort to bring peace to the warring parties. The One Love Peace concert is remembered today for the moment when Marley, improvising on the lyrics to Jamming, asked Michael Manley and Edward Seaga to come and join him on the stage. This they did, and Marley held their hands high in the air, saying I just wanna shake hands and show the people were gonna unite...were gonna unite...weve got to unite...The moon is high over my head, and I give my love instead. The moon is high over my head, and I give my love instead.
Survival, a defiant and politically charged album was released in 1979. Tracks like Zimbabwe, Africa Unite, Wake Up And Live, and Survival reflected Marley’s support for the struggles of Africans. In early 1980 he was invited to perform at the April 17, 1980 celebrations of Zimbabwe’s Independence Day. His last concert was held at the Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh on September 23, 1980.
Uprising (1980) was Bob Marley’s final studio album, and is one of Marley’s most directly religious albums, including Redemption Song and Forever Loving Jah. Redemption song has the famous lines, Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery; None but ourselves can free our minds. Confrontation, released after Bob Marley’s death, contained unreleased material and singles recorded during Marley’s lifetime, including Buffalo Soldier.
Bob Marley was a member of the Rastafari movement, which believes Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia, the former Emperor of Ethiopia to be Jah (God) incarnate, the returned messiah. Rastafari culture was a key element in the development of reggae, and Marley’s adoption of the characteristic Rastafarian dreadlocks and use of marijuana (smoking marijuana) as a sacred sacrament in the early seventies were an integral part of his persona as a famous musician. He would enter every show proclaiming the divinity of Jah Rastafari.
Many of Marley’s songs contained Biblical references, sometimes using wordplay to fuse activism and religion, as in revolution and revelation: Revelation, reveals the truth ... it takes a revolution to make a solution.
A few months before his death he was baptized into the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and took the name Berhane Selassie (meaning the Light of the Holy Trinity in Amharic).
Battle with cancer
In July 1977, Marley was found to have a wound on his right big toe, which he thought was from a football (soccer) injury. Urban legends have since told that it was the British television personality Danny Baker who had caused the injury during a celebrity football match. The wound would not completely heal, and his toenail later fell off during a football game. It was then that the correct diagnosis was made. Marley actually had a form of skin cancer, malignant melanoma, which grew under his toenail.
Marley was advised to get his toe amputated, but he refused because of his Rastafarian beliefs that the body must be whole, that to have an amputation would be a sin, that his faith would ensure him living forever regardless of the cancer and because he saw medical doctors as samfai, confidence men who cheat the gullible by pretending to have the power of witchcraft. He also was concerned about the impact the operation would have on his dancing. Still, Marley based this refusal primarily on his Rastafarian beliefs, saying, Rasta no abide amputation. I don’t allow a mon ta be dismantled. (Catch a Fire, Timothy White) He did agree to undergo some minor surgery to try to excise the cancer, which was kept secret from the wider public.
Collapse and treatment
The cancer eventually spread to Marley’s brain, lungs, liver, and stomach. He later collapsed while jogging in NYCs Central Park, having recently played two shows at Madison Square Garden as part of his fall 1980 Uprising Tour (the remainder of which was subsequently cancelled). Bob Marley played his final concert in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on 23 September, 1980; the live version of Redemption Song on Songs of Freedom was recorded at this show. Marley sought medical help, and decided to go to Munich in order to receive treatment from cancer specialist Josef Issels, but the cancer had already progressed to the terminal stage.
Marley wanted to spend his final days in Jamaica but he became too ill on the flight home from Germany and the plane was forced to land in Miami so that he could receive immediate medical attention. He died at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Miami, Florida on May 11, 1981. His final words to his son Ziggy were, Money can’t buy life. Bob Marley received the honor of a State funeral in Jamaica. It was a dignified funeral with combined elements of Ethiopian Orthodoxy and Rastafari. He is buried in a crypt at Nine Miles, near his birthplace, with his Gibson Les Paul, soccer ball, a bud of marijuana and a Bible. A month before his death, he was awarded the Jamaican Order of Merit.
Bob Marley had 12 children, four with his wife Rita. His children are, in order of birth:
- Sharon, born 23 November 1964, to Rita by another man before she married Bob, and adopted by Bob.
- Cedella, born 23 August 1967, to Rita.
- David Ziggy, born 17 October 1968 to Rita.
- Stephen, born 20 April 1972, to Rita.
- Robert Robbie, born 16 May 1972, to Pat Williams.
- Rohan, born 19 May 1972, to Janet Hunt. Married Lauryn Hill.
- Karen, born 1973, to Janet Bowen.
- Stephanie, born 1974?, to Rita by another man, and adopted by Bob.
- Julian, born 4 June 1975, to Lucy Pounder.
- Ky-Mani, born 26 February 1976, to Anita Belnavis.
- Damian Jr. Gong, born 21 July 1978, to Cindy Breakspeare.
- Makeda, born 30 May 1981, to Yvette Crichton.
Bob Marley’s music has only grown in popularity in the years since his death and continues to produce a huge stream of revenue for his estate, while also bringing him a nearly mythic status in music history. He remains enormously popular and well known all over the world, particularly so in Africa. In 1994, Marley was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Time magazine chose Bob Marley & The Wailers album Exodus as the greatest album of the 20th century.
In February 2006, a Brooklyn community board voted to rename a portion of Church Avenue, which runs through several heavily Caribbean-American neighborhoods, after Bob Marley, pending approval of the full New York City Council.
In January 2005, it was reported that Rita Marley was planning to have her late husband’s remains exhumed and reburied in Shashamane, Ethiopia. In announcing the decision to move Marley’s remains to Ethiopia, Rita Marley said: Bob’s whole life is about Africa, it is not Jamaica. There was a great deal of resistance to this proposal in Jamaica. The birthday celebrations for what would have been his 60th birthday on 6th February 2005 were celebrated in Shashamane for the first time, having previously always been held in Jamaica. Later that year his wife, Rita Marley, and son Damian denied that they intended to rebury Bob’s remains in Ethiopia.
Awards and honors
- Marley’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame1976 - Band of the Year (Rolling Stone)
- June 1978 - Awarded the Peace Medal of the Third World from the United Nations
- February 1981 - Awarded Jamaica’s third highest honor, the Jamaican Order of Merit
- March 1994 - Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
- 1999 - Album of the Century (Time Magazine) for Exodus)
- February 2001 - A star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
- February 2001 - Awarded Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award
- Posthumous Achievement Award 2005
- One Love named song of the millennium by The BBC
- Exodus was named album of the 20th century by Times magazine in 1999
- Rebel Music - The Bob Marley Story documentary won the prize of Best Long Form Music Video 2001
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