Robert Nesta "Bob" Marley
(February 6, 1945 – May 11, 1981) was a
Jamaican singer-songwriter and musician. He was the lead singer, songwriter and
guitarist for the ska, rock steady and reggae bands The Wailers (1964–1974) and
Bob Marley & the Wailers (1974–1981). Marley remains the most widely known and
revered performer of reggae music, and is credited for helping spread both
Jamaican music and the Rastafari movement (of which he was a committed member),
to a worldwide audience.
Marley's best known hits include "I Shot the Sheriff", "No Woman, No Cry",
"Exodus", "Could You Be Loved", "Stir It Up", "Jamming", "Redemption Song", "One
Love" and, together with The Wailers, "Three Little Birds",
as well as the posthumous releases "Buffalo Soldier" and "Iron Lion Zion". The
compilation album, Legend, released in 1984, three years after his death,
is reggae's best-selling album, being 10 times Platinum (Diamond) in the U.S.,
and selling 20 million copies worldwide.
Early life and career
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Bob Marley was born in the small village of Nine Mile in Saint Ann Parish,
Jamaica as Nesta Robert Marley.
A Jamaican passport official would later swap his first and middle names.
His father Norval Sinclair Marley was a Caucasian Jamaican of English descent
whose family came from Essex in England. Some have specualted that they were of
Syrian Jewish descent however this is not conclusive.Norval
was a captain in the Royal Marines, as well as a plantation overseer, when he
married Cedella Booker, an Afro-Jamaican then eighteen years old.
Norval provided financial support for his wife and child, but seldom saw them,
as he was often away on trips. In 1955, when Marley was 10 years old, his father
died of a heart attack at age 60.
Marley suffered racial prejudice as a youth, because of his mixed racial origins
and faced questions about his own racial identity throughout his life. He once
have prejudice against meself. 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 God's side, the one who create me and cause me
to come from black and white."
Although Marley recognized his mixed ancestry, throughout his life and
because of his beliefs, he self-identified as a black African
In songs such as "Black Progress," "African Herbsman," "Buffalo Soldier," "War,"
"Africa Unite" and others, Marley sings about the struggles of blacks and
Africans against oppression from the West or "Babylon."
Marley became friends with Neville "Bunny" Livingston (later known as Bunny
Wailer), with whom he started to play music. He left school at the age of 14 to
make music with Joe Higgs, a local singer and devout Rastafari. It was at a jam
session with Higgs and Livingston that Marley met Peter McIntosh (later known as
Peter Tosh), who had similar musical ambitions.
In 1962, Marley recorded his first two singles, "Judge Not" and "One Cup of
Coffee", with local music producer Leslie Kong. These songs, released on the
Beverley's label under the pseudonym of Bobby Martell,
attracted little attention. The songs were later re-released on the box set,
Songs of Freedom, a posthumous collection of Marley's work.
In 1963, Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh, Junior Braithwaite, Beverley
Kelso, and Cherry Smith formed a ska and rocksteady group, calling themselves
"The Teenagers". They later changed their name to "The Wailing Rudeboys", then
to "The Wailing Wailers", at which point they were discovered by record producer
Coxsone Dodd, and finally to "The Wailers". By 1966, Braithwaite, Kelso, and
Smith had left The Wailers, leaving the core trio of Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer,
and Peter Tosh.
In 1966, Marley married Rita Anderson, and moved near his mother's residence
in Wilmington, Delaware in the United States for a short time, during which he
worked as a DuPont lab assistant and on the assembly line at a Chrysler plant,
under the alias Donald Marley.
Upon returning to Jamaica, Marley became a member of the Rastafari movement,
and started to wear his trademark dreadlocks (see the religion section
for more on Marley's religious views).
After a conflict with 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 Wailers' finest work. Marley and
Perry split after a dispute regarding the assignment of recording rights, but
they would remain friends and work together again.
Between 1968 and 1972, Bob and Rita Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer
re-cut some old tracks with JAD Records in Kingston and London in an attempt to
commercialize The Wailers' sound. Bunny later asserted that these songs "should
never be released on an album … they were just demos for record companies to
listen to." Also in 1968, Bob and Rita visited the Bronx to see Johnny Nash's
songwriter Jimmy Norman.
A three day jam session with Norman and others, including Norman's co-writer Al
Pyfrom, resulted in a 24-minute tape of Marley performing several of his own and
Norman-Pyfrom's compositions which is, according to Reggae archivist Roger
Steffens, rare in that was influenced by pop rather than reggae, as part of the
effort to break Marley into American charts.
According to an article in The New York Times, Marley experimented on the
tape with different sounds, adopting a doo-wop style on "Stay With Me" and "the
slow love song style of 1960's artists" on "Splish for My Splash."
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 the songs "Get Up, Stand Up" and "I Shot The Sheriff". Eric Clapton
made a hit cover of "I Shot the Sheriff" in 1974, raising Marley's international
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 is shrouded in conjecture; some
believe that there were disagreements amongst Bunny, Peter, and Bob concerning
performances, while others claim that Bunny and Peter simply preferred solo
Bob Marley & The Wailers
Despite the breakup, Marley continued recording as "Bob Marley & The
Wailers". His new backing band included brothers Carlton and Aston "Family Man"
Barrett on drums and bass respectively, Junior Marvin and Al Anderson on lead
guitar, Tyrone Downie and Earl "Wya" Lindo on keyboards, and Alvin "Seeco"
Patterson on percussion. The "I Threes", consisting of Judy Mowatt, Marcia
Griffiths, and Marley's wife, Rita, provided backing vocals.
In 1975, Marley had his international breakthrough with his first hit outside
Jamaica, "No Woman, No Cry," from the Natty Dread album. This was
followed by his breakthrough album in the US, Rastaman Vibration (1976),
which spent four weeks on the Billboard charts Top Ten.
In December 1976, two days before "Smile Jamaica", a free concert organized
by the Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley in an attempt to ease tension
between two warring political groups, Marley, his wife, and manager Don Taylor
were wounded in an assault by unknown gunmen inside Marley's home. Taylor and
Marley's wife sustained serious injuries, but later made full recoveries. Bob
Marley received minor wounds in the chest and arm. The shooting was thought to
have been politically motivated, as many felt the concert was really a support
rally for Manley. Nonetheless, the concert proceeded, and an injured Marley
performed as scheduled, two days after the attempt. When asked why, Marley
responded, "the people who are trying to make this world worse aren’t taking a
day off. How can I?".
The members of the group Zap Pow – which had no radical religious or political
beliefs – played as Bob Marley's backup band before a festival crowd of 80,000
while members of the Wailers were still missing or in hiding.
Marley left Jamaica at the end of 1976 for England, where he recorded his
Exodus and Kaya albums. Exodus stayed on the British album
charts for 56 consecutive weeks. It included four UK hit singles: "Exodus",
"Waiting In Vain", "Jamming", and "One Love" (a rendition of Curtis Mayfield's
hit, "People Get Ready"). It was here that he was arrested and received a
conviction for possession of a small quantity of cannabis while traveling in
In 1978, Marley performed at another political concert in Jamaica, the One
Love Peace Concert, again in an effort to calm warring parties. Near the end of
the performance, by Marley's request, Manley and his political rival, Edward
Seaga, joined each other on stage and shook hands.
Babylon by Bus, a double live album with 13 tracks, was released in
1978 to critical acclaim. This album, and specifically the final track "Jammin'"
with the audience in a frenzy, captured the intensity of Marley's live
Survival, a defiant and politically charged album, was released in
1979. Tracks such as "Zimbabwe", "Africa Unite", "Wake Up and Live", and
"Survival" reflected Marley's support for the struggles of Africans. His
appearance at the Amandla Festival in Boston in July 1979 showed his strong
opposition to South African apartheid, which he already had shown in his song
"War" in 1976. In early 1980, he was invited to perform at the April 17
celebration of Zimbabwe's Independence Day.
Uprising (1980) was Bob Marley's final studio album, and is one of his
most religious productions, including "Redemption Song" and "Forever Loving Jah".
Confrontation, released posthumously in 1983, contained unreleased
material recorded during Marley's lifetime, including the hit "Buffalo Soldier"
and new mixes of singles previously only available in Jamaica.
In July 1977, Marley was found to have acral lentiginous melanoma, a form of
malignant melanoma, in a football wound—according to widely held urban legend,
inflicted by broadcaster and pundit Danny Baker—on
his right big toe. Marley refused amputation, because of the Rastafari belief
that the body must be "whole". 
Marley may have seen medical doctors as samfai (tricksters,
deceivers). True to this belief Marley went against all surgical possibilities
and sought out other means that would not break his religious beliefs. He also
refused to register a will, based on the Rastafari belief that writing a will is
acknowledging death as inevitable, thus disregarding the everlasting (or
everliving, as Rastas say) character of life.
The cancer then metastasized (spread) to Marley's brain, lungs, liver, and
stomach. After playing two shows at Madison Square Garden as part of his fall
1980 Uprising Tour, he collapsed while jogging in New York City's Central Park.
The remainder of the tour was subsequently cancelled.
Marley played his final concert at the Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh,
Pennsylvania on September 23, 1980. The live version of "Redemption Song" on
Songs of Freedom was recorded at this show.
Marley afterwards sought medical help from Munich specialist Josef Issels, who
promoted a controversial type of cancer treatment, partly based on avoidance of
certain foods, drinks and other substances (Marley was also already a
vegetarian, and modeled his diet in accordance to religious beliefs and what is
considered Ital).. However, by
this time his illness had already progressed to the terminal stage.
Death and posthumous reputation
While flying home from Germany to Jamaica for his final days, Marley became
ill, and landed in Miami for immediate medical attention. He died at Cedars of
Lebanon Hospital in Miami on the morning of May 11, 1981, at the age of 36. The
spread of melanoma to his lungs and brain caused his death. His final words to
his son Ziggy were "Money can't buy life."
Marley received a state funeral in Jamaica on May 21, 1981, which combined
elements of Ethiopian Orthodoxy and Rastafari tradition.
He was buried in a chapel near his birthplace with his Fender Stratocaster.
A month before his death, he had also been awarded the Jamaican Order of Merit.
Marley was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.
Time magazine chose Bob Marley & The Wailers' Exodus as the
greatest album of the 20th century.
In 2001, Marley was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement
Award, and a feature-length documentary about his life, Rebel Music, won
various awards at the Grammys. With contributions from Rita, the Wailers, and
Marley's lovers and children, it also tells much of the story in his own words.
In 2006, the State of New York renamed a portion of Church Avenue from Remsen
Avenue to East 98th Street in the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn "Bob Marley
Bob Marley was a member of the Rastafari movement, whose culture was a key
element in the development of reggae. Bob Marley became a leading proponent of
the Rastafari, taking their music out of the socially deprived areas of Jamaica
and onto the international music scene. Marley was baptized by the Archbishop of
the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian Church in Kingston, Jamaica, on November 4,
Wife and children
Bob Marley had a number of children: three with his wife Rita, two adopted
from Rita's previous relationships, and the remaining seven with separate women.
His children are, in order of birth:
- Imani Carole, born May 22, 1963 to Cheryl Murray
- Sharon, born November 23, 1964, to Rita in previous relationship;
- Cedella born August 23, 1967, to Rita;
- David "Ziggy", born October 17, 1968, to Rita;
- Stephen, born April 20, 1972, to Rita;
- Robert "Robbie", born May 16, 1972, to Pat Williams;
- Rohan, born May 19, 1972, to Janet Hunt;
- Karen, born 1973 to Janet Bowen;
- Stephanie, born August 17, 1974; according to Cedella Booker she was the
daughter of Rita and a man called Ital with whom Rita had an affair;
nonetheless she was acknowledged as Bob's daughter;
- Julian, born June 4, 1975, to Lucy Pounder;
- Ky-Mani, born February 26, 1976, to Anita Belnavis;
- Damian, born July 21, 1978, to Cindy Breakspeare;
- Makeda, born May 30, 1981, to Yvette Crichton.
- Apr–Jul 1973: Catch a Fire Tour (England, USA)
- Oct–Nov 1973: Burnin' Tour (USA, England)
- Jun–Jul 1975: Natty Dread Tour (USA, Canada, England)
- Apr–Jul 1976: Rastaman Vibration Tour (USA, Canada, Germany,
Sweden, Netherlands, France, England, Wales)
- May–Jun 1977: Exodus Tour (France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany,
Sweden, Denmark, England)
- May–Aug 1978: Kaya Tour (USA, Canada, England, France, Spain,
Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Netherlands, Belgium)
- Apr–May 1979: Babylon by Bus Tour (Japan, New Zealand, Australia,
- Oct 1979–Jan 1980: Survival Tour (USA, Canada, Trinidad/Tobago,
- May–Sep 1980: Uprising Tour (Switzerland, Germany, France,
Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Ireland,
England, Scotland, Wales, USA)
- Studio One Recordings:
- The Wailing Wailers (1965)
- Beverly's Recordings:
- The Best of the Wailers (1970)
- Trojan Recordings:
- Soul Rebels (1970)
- Soul Revolution (1971)
- Soul Revolution Part II (1971)
- African Herbsman (1973)
- Rasta Revolution (1974)
- Island/Tuff Gong Recordings:
- Catch a Fire (1973)
- Burnin' (1973)
- Natty Dread (1974)
- Live!: Recorded at The Lyceum Theatre, London (1975)
- Rastaman Vibration (1976)
- Exodus (1977)
- Kaya (1978)
- Babylon by Bus (1978)
- Survival (1979)
- Uprising (1980)
- Chances Are (1981)
- Confrontation (1983)
- Legend (1984)
Awards and honours
- 1976: Band of the Year (Rolling Stone)
- June 1978: Awarded the Peace Medal of the Third World from the United
- February 1981: Awarded Jamaica's third highest honor, the Jamaican Order
- March 1994: Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
- 1999: Album of the Century for Exodus (Time magazine)
- February 2001: A star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
- February 2001: Awarded Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award
- 2004: Rolling Stone ranked him #11 on their list of the 100
Greatest Artists of All Time.
- "One Love" named song of the millennium by The BBC
- Voted as one of the greatest lyricists of all time by a BBC poll.
- 2006 A plaque dedicated to him by Nubian Jak community trust and
supported by Her Majesty's Foreign Office.
In February 2008, director Martin Scorsese announced his intention to produce
a documentary movie on Marley. The film is set to be released on February 6,
2010, on what would have been Marley's 65th birthday.
Recently, however, Scorsese dropped out due to scheduling problems. He is being
replaced by Jonathan Demme.
In March 2008, The Weinstein Company announced its plans to produce a biopic
of Bob Marley, based on the book No Woman No Cry: My Life With Bob Marley
by Rita Marley. Rudy Langlais will produce the script by Lizzie Borden and Rita
Marley will exec produce.
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