Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Robert Nesta Marley - Reggae Ambassador

Robert Nesta Marley, OM (February 6, 1945 – May 11, 1981), better known as Bob Marley, was a Jamaican singer, songwriter, and guitarist. He is the most widely known performer of reggae music, and is famous for having popularized the genre outside Jamaica. A faithful Rastafarian, Marley is regarded by many as a prophet of the religion, as well as one of the greatest songwriters of all time.

His best known songs are a mixture of reggae, rock, and rhythm and blues, and include "I Shot the Sheriff", made famous in 1974 by Eric Clapton, which raised Marley's international profile, "No Woman No Cry", "Exodus", "Could You Be Loved", "Jamming","Redemption Song" and one of his most famous songs, "One Love". His posthumous album Legend (1984) became the best-selling reggae album ever, with sales of more than 12 million copies.

Early life and career

Bob Marley was born on Tuesday 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, as well as a plantation overseer, when he married Cedella Booker, an eighteen-year-old black Jamaican. Norval provided financial support for his wife and child, but seldom saw them, as he was often away on trips. Bob was ten years old when Norval died of a heart attack in 1955 at age 60.

Being of mixed race, Bob Marley faced questions about his own racial identity throughout his life. He 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. Marley was forced to learn self-defense, as he became the target of bullying because of his racial makeup and stature (he was 5'4" (163 cm) tall). He gained a reputation for his physical strength and constitution, which earned him the nickname "Tuff Gong".

Young Marley became friends with Neville "Bunny" Livingston (later Bunny Wailer), with whom Marley started to play music. Marley 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 Rastafarian whom many critics regard as Marley's mentor. It was at one of the jam sessions 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 attracted little attention, and were later re-released on Marley's Songs of Freedom album.

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. The single 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 began practicing Rastafari and started to wear his trademark dreadlocks.

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 re-cut 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 "Get Up, Stand Up" and "I Shot The Sheriff". Eric Clapton made a hit cover of the latter 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 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 in 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 Marley. 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 traveling 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.

The words he said, as he called the two politicians onstage, and while he held their hands above his head:

His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I, run lightning, leading the people of the slaves to shake hands. . . To show the people that you love them right, to show the people that you gonna unite, show the people that you're over bright, show the people that everything is all right. Watch, watch, watch, what you're doing, because . . I'm not so good at talking but I hope you understand what I'm trying to say. I'm trying to say, could we have, could we have, up here onstage here the presence of Mr. Michael Manley and Mr. Edward Seaga. I just want to shake hands and show the people that we're gonna unite . . . we're gonna unite . . . we've 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.

He said this while improvising on the song "Jamming".

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.


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 Rastafarian dreadlocks and famous use of marijuana 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).

Battle Wth Cancer


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 Rastafarian 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, confidence men who cheat the gullible by pretending to have the power of witchcraft [citation needed]. True to this belief Marley went against all surgical possibilities and sought out other means that would not break his religious beliefs.

Collapse and Treatment

The cancer spread to Marley's brain, lungs, liver, and stomach following his refusal of treatment. 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.


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. 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, and a Bible. A month before his death, he was awarded the Jamaican Order of Merit.


Bob Marley had 13 children: three with his wife Rita, two adopted from Rita's previous relationships, and the remaining eight with separate women. His children are, in order of birth:

1. Imani Carole, born May 22, 1963 to Cheryl Murray

2. Sharon, born November 23, 1964 to Rita in a separate marriage;

3. Cedella, born August 23, 1967 to Rita;

4. David "Ziggy", born October 17, 1968 to Rita;

5. Stephen, born April 20, 1972 to Rita;

6. Robert "Robbie", born May 16, 1972 to Pat Williams;

7. Rohan, born May 19, 1972 to Janet Hunt;

8. Karen, born 1973 to Janet Bowen;

9. Stephanie, born 1974 to Rita in a separate marriage;

10. Julian, born June 4, 1975 to Lucy Pounder;

11. Ky-Mani, born February 26, 1976 to Anita Belnavis;

12. Damian, born July 21, 1978 to Cindy Breakspeare;

13. Makeda, born May 30, 1981 to Yvette Crichton.

Posthumous Reputation

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 won the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, a feature-length documentary about his life by Jeremy Marre, Rebel Music, was nominated for the 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 tells much of the story too in his own words.

In February 2006, a Brooklyn community board voted to rename a portion of Church Avenue, which runs through several heavily populated Caribbean-American neighborhoods, after Bob Marley, pending approval of the 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. This announcement was met with great resistance in Jamaica, with critics arguing that his life was a testament to the unique Jamaican culture. Marley's 60th birthday celebration on February 6, 2005 was celebrated in Shashamane, having previously always been held in Jamaica. Later that year, Rita Marley denied having made such plans.


* 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, Hawaii)

* Oct-Dec 1979: Survival Tour (USA, Canada, Trinidad/Tobago, Bahamas)

* Apr 1980: Zimbabwe

* May-Sep 1980: Uprising Tour (Switzerland, Germany, France, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales, USA)

Awards and Honors

Marley's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

* 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 third highest honor, the Jamaican Order of Merit

* 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

* 2005: Posthumous Achievement Award

* "One Love" named song of the millennium by The BBC

Visit Jamaica and see how such legends are created.

See you in Jamaica.


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