Robert Nesta Marley (February 6, 1945 – May 11, 1981), better known as Bob Marley, was a singer, guitarist, songwriter from the ghettos of Jamaica. He is the best-known reggae musician of all times, famous for popularising the genre outside of Jamaica. Much of his work deals with the struggles of the impoverished and/or powerless. He has been called the Charles Wesley of the Rastafarian faith for the way he spread Rastafari through his music.
He was the husband of Rita Anderson Marley (who was one of the I Threes, who acted as the Wailers’ back up singers after they became a global act). She had 4 of his 9 children, including David Ziggy Marley and Stephen Marley who continue their father’s musical legacy in their band The Melody Makers. Another of his sons Damien Marley (aka ‘Jr Gong’) has also started a career in Music.
Bob Marley was born on February 6, 1945, in Jamaica to Norval Marley, a middle-aged white plantation overseer from England, and Cedella Booker, a black teenager from the north country. Cedella and Norval were to be married on June 9th, 1944. Approximately a week before the wedding, however, Norval informed Cedella that his chronic hernia had begun to trouble him and as a result, he would be changing jobs and moving to Kingston. Norval never really knew his son because of the white upper class’ disdain for interracial relationships. As a youth, Bob Marley was often the object of bitter ridicule by both white and black Jamaicans for his mixed heritage.
Marley started his musical experimentation in ska and gravitated towards reggae as the music evolved, playing, teaching and singing for a long period in the 1970sand 1980s. Marley is perhaps best-known for work with his reggae group ‘The Wailers’, which included two other celebrated reggae musicians, Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh. Livingstone and Tosh later left the group and went on to become successful solo artists.
Much of Marley’s early work was produced by Coxsone Dodd at Studio One. That relationship later deteriorated due to financial pressure, and in the early 1970s, he produced what is believed by many to be his finest work with Lee Perry. This pair also split apart, this time over the assignment of recording rights. They did work together again in London, though, and remained friends until Marley’s death.
Marley’s work was largely responsible for the mainstream cultural acceptance of reggae music outside of Jamaica. He signed to Chris Blackwell’s Island Records label in 1971, at the time a highly influential and innovative label. Island Records boasted a retinue of successful and diverse artists including Genesis, John Martyn, and Nick Drake. Though many people believe that Blackwell interfered with what Marley wanted to do with his own music, truth is that the knowledge this producer brought to the scene was critical in Marley’s wish to bring reggae to the world.
Religious and political convictions
Marley was well known for his devotion to the Rastafarian religion. It was his wife Rita who first inspired him in his faith, and he then received teachings from Mortimer Planner. He served as a de facto missionary for the faith (his actions and lyrics suggest that this was intentional) and brought it to global attention. Through his music, he preached brotherhood and peace for all of mankind. Towards the end of his life, he was also baptized into the Ethiopian Orthodox Church with the name Berhane Selassie.
As a Rasta, Bob Marley was a great defender of cannabis which he used as a sacrament. On the cover of Catch a Fire he is seen smoking a big spliff, and the spiritual use of cannabis is mentioned in many of his songs.
In 1976, just two days before a scheduled free concert that Marley and the then Jamaican PM Michael Manley had organized, Marley, his wife Rita and manager Don Taylor, were shot inside the star’s 56 Hope Road home. Marley received minor injuries in the arm and chest. Don Taylor took most of the bullets in his legs and torso as he accidentally walked in the line of fire. He was registered in serious condition after he was rushed to the hospital but fully recovered later. Rita also recovered from the head wound she received that night. It is generally believed that this shooting was politically motivated. Jamaican politics being somewhat violent at the time, especially when close to elections time as it was then. The concert was seen as being in support of the progressive prime minister of Jamaica, Michael Manley. It is widely held that he was shot by supporters of the conservative political party of Jamaica, the Jamaica Labour Party. However, there is little evidence to support this. Though the police never caught the gunmen, Marley devotees later ‘caught up’ with them on the streets of Kingston.
Marley was known to have connections with the Twelve Tribes of Israel sect of Rastafari, and he expressed this with a biblical quote about Joseph, son of Jacob on the album cover of Rastaman Vibration. The tribe of Joseph is Aquarius
Battle with cancer
In July 1977, Marley was found to have a wound on his right big toe, which he thought was from a soccer injury. The wound would not completely heal, and his toenail later fell off during a soccer 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. He was advised to get his toe amputated, but he refused because of the Rastafarian belief that doctors are 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; amputation would profoundly affect his career at a time when greater success was close at hand. Still, Marley based this refusal on his Rastafarian beliefs, saying, ‘Rasta no abide amputation. I and I don’t allow a mon ta be dismantled.’ Catch a Fire, Timothy White He did have surgery to try to excise the cancer cells. The cancer was kept a secret from the wider public.
Cancer spread to his brain, his lungs, and his stomach. While on tour in the summer of 1980, he collapsed while jogging in NYC’s Central Park after a series of shows at Madison Square Garden. The illness made him unable to continue with the large tour planned. Marley sought help, mostly from the controversial cancer specialist Josef Issels, but it was discovered that his illness was terminal. A month before his death, he was awarded Jamaica’s Order of Merit. He wanted to spend his final days in Jamaica but he became too ill on the flight home from Germany and had to land in Miami. He passed away at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Miami, Florida on May 11, 1981. His funeral in Jamaica was a dignified affair with combined elements of Ethiopian Orthodoxy (he had secretly been baptized into the Ethiopian Orthodox Church as Bernake Selassie) and Rastafarianism. He is buried in a crypt at Nine Miles, near his birthplace. His early death brought him nearly mythic status in music history similar to that of Elvis Presley and John Lennon. His image and music continue to produce a huge stream of revenue for his estate. He was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001.
Rewards and honors
• 1976 – 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 highest honor, the Order of Merit
• 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
1 “When one door is closed, don’t you know that many more are open”
2 “The good times of today are the sad thoughts of tomorrow.”
3 “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”
4 “Love the life you live. live the life you love.”
5 “The truth is, everyone is going to hurt you. You just got to find the ones worth suffering for.”
6 “None but ourselves can free our minds.”
7 “Don’t gain the world and lose your soul, wisdom is better than silver or gold…”
8 “The greatness of a man is not in how much wealth he acquires, but in his integrity and
his ability to affect those around him positively.”
9 “One love, one heart . . . Let’s get together and feel all right”
10 “Don’t worry about a thing, ’cause every little thing gonna be all right.”
11 “Open your eyes, look within. Are you satisfied with the life you’re living?”
12 “Get up, stand up, Stand up for your rights. Get up, stand up, Don’t give up the fight.”