Bob Marley, center, with Bunny
Wailer, left, and Peter Tosh of
the Wailers in the 1960s.
Robert Nesta Marley, February 6, 1945 – May 11, 1981) was a Jamaican singer, songwriter, and guitarist. He is the most widely known performer of reggae music, and is famous for popularising the genre outside Jamaica. A faithful Rastafari, Marley is regarded by many as a prophet of the religion.
Marley is best known for his ska, rocksteady, and reggae songs, which include the hits "I Shot the Sheriff", "No Woman, No Cry", "Three Little Birds", "Exodus", "Could You Be Loved", "Jamming", "Redemption Song", and one of his most famous love songs, "One Love". His posthumous compilation album Legend (1984) is the best-selling reggae album ever, with sales of more than 12 million copies.
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Early life and career
Bob Marley (born Nesta Robert Marley) was born in the small village of Nine Miles in Saint Ann, Jamaica. His father, Norval Sinclair Marley, was a white Jamaican born in 1895 to British parents from Sussex. Norval was a Marine officer and captain. He was a plantation overseer when he married Cedella Booker, an eighteen-year-old black Jamaican – Bob Marley's mother. Norval provided financial support for his wife and child, but seldom saw them, as he was often away on trips. Bob Marley was ten years old when Norval Marley died
of a heart attack in 1955 at age 60.
Being of mixed race Bob Marley suffered from racial prejudice as a youth and faced questions about his own racial identity throughout his life. Regarding his mixed race, Bob Marley once reflected: "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 God's side, the one who create me and cause me to come from black and white." Marley and his mother moved to Kingston's Trenchtown slum after Norval's death. He was forced to learn self-defense, as he became the target of bullying because of his racial makeup and small stature (he was 5'4" (163 cm) tall). He gained a reputation for his physical strength, which earned him the nickname "Tuff Gong".
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 and started as an apprentice at a local welder's shop. In his free time, he and Livingston made music with Joe Higgs, a local singer and devout Rastafari who is regarded by many as Marley's mentor. 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 album Songs of Freedom, a posthumous collection of Bob Marley's songs.
In 1963, Bob Marley, Bunny Livingston, Peter McIntosh, 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", and finally to "The Wailers". By 1966, Braithwaite, Kelso, and Smith had left The Wailers, leaving the core trio of Marley, Livingston, and McIntosh.
Marley took on the role of leader, singer, and main songwriter. Much of The Wailers' early work, including their first single Simmer Down, was produced by Coxsone Dodd at Studio One. Simmer Down topped Jamaican Charts in 1964 and established The Wailers as one of the hottest groups in the country. They followed up with songs such as "Soul Rebel" and "400 Years".
In 1966, Marley married Rita Anderson, and moved near his mother's residence in Wilmington, Delaware for a few months. 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 McIntosh and Bunny Livingston recut some old tracks with JAD Records in Kingston and London in an attempt to commercialize The Wailers' sound. Livingston later asserted that these songs "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 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 profile.
The Wailers broke up in 1974 with each of the three main members going on to pursue solo careers. The reason for the breakup is shrouded in conjecture; some believe that there were disagreements amongst Livingston, McIntosh, and Marley concerning performances, while others claim that Livingston and McIntosh simply preferred solo work. McIntosh began recording under the name Peter Tosh, and Livingston continued on as Bunny Wailer.
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, performed backup 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 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 only minor injuries 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.
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 also "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 travelling in London.
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.
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. 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". It was in "Redemption Song" that Marley sang the famous lyric,
“ Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery
None but ourselves can free our minds... ”
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 malignant melanoma in a football wound on his right hallux (big toe). Marley refused amputation, citing worries that the operation would affect his dancing, as well as the Rastafari belief that the body must be "whole":
“ Rasta no abide amputation. I don't allow a man to be dismantled. ”
—From the biography Catch a Fire
Marley may have seen medical doctors as samfai. 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 one acknowledged death as inevitable and disregarded the everlasting character of life.
Collapse and treatment
The cancer then 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 NYC's Central Park. The remainder of the tour was subsequently cancelled.
Bob 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, but his cancer 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, Florida on the morning of May 11, 1981 at the age of 36. His final words to his son Ziggy were "Money can't buy life". Marley received a state funeral in Jamaica, which combined elements of Ethiopian Orthodoxy and Rastafari. He was buried in a crypt near his birthplace with his Gibson Les Paul, a soccer ball, a marijuana bud, a ring that he wore everyday that was given to him by the Prince Asfa Wossen of Ethiopia (eldest son of H.I.M), and a Bible. A month before his death, he was awarded the Jamaican Order of Merit.
Bob Marley's music has continuously grown in popularity in the years since his death, providing a stream of revenue for his estate and affording him a mythical status in 20th century music history. He remains enormously popular and well-known all over the world, particularly so in Africa. 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, the same year that Marley was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, a feature-length documentary about his life, Rebel Music, was nominated for Best Long Form Music Video documentary at the Grammies. It won various other awards. With contributions from Rita, the Wailers, and Marley's lovers and children, it also tells much of the story in his own words.
In Summer 2006, the City of New York renamed a portion of Church Avenue from Ramsen Avenue to East 98th Street in the East Flatbush Section of Brooklyn Bob Marley Blvd.
Bob Marley was a member of the Rastafari movement, whose culture was a key element in the development of reggae. Bob Marley became the leading proponent of the Rastafari, taking their music out of the socially deprived areas of Jamaica and onto the international music scene.
Now considered a "Rasta" legend, Marley's adoption of the characteristic Rastafari dreadlocks and famous use of cannabis as a sacred sacrament in the late sixties were an integral part of his persona. He is said to have entered every performance 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, Marley was baptised into the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and took the name Berhane Selassie (meaning the Light of the Holy Trinity in Amharic).