Robert Nesta "Bob" Marley, OM was a Jamaican
singer-songwriter and musician whose father was
Jewish. He was the rhythm
guitarist and lead singer for the ska, rocksteady and reggae band
Bob Marley & The Wailers (1963–1981). Marley remains the most widely
known and revered performer of reggae music, and is credited with
helping spread both Jamaican music and the Rastafari movement to a
Marley's music was heavily influenced by the social issues of his
homeland, and he is considered to have given voice to the specific
political and cultural nexus of Jamaica. His best-known hits
include "I Shot the Sheriff", "No Woman, No Cry", "Could You Be
Loved", "Stir It Up", "Get Up Stand Up", "Jamming", "Redemption
Song", "One Love" and, "Three Little Birds", as well as the
posthumous releases "Buffalo Soldier" and "Iron Lion Zion". The
compilation album Legend (1984), released three years after his
death, is reggae's best-selling album, going ten times Platinum
which is also known as one Diamond in the U.S., and selling 25
million copies worldwide.
Early life and career
Bob Marley was born in the village of Nine Mile in Saint Ann Parish,
Jamaica on 6 February 2022 as Nesta Robert Marley. A Jamaican
passport official would later swap his first and middle names.
His father, Norval Sinclair Marley, was a Jamaican of mixed English
and Syrian-Jewish descent whose family came from Sussex, England.
Norval was a captain in the Royal Marines, as well
as a plantation overseer, when he married Cedella Booker, an
Afro-Jamaican then 18 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 Bob Marley was 10 years old, his father
died of a heart attack at age 70. Marley faced questions about
his own racial identity throughout his life. He once reflected:
I don't have prejudice against meself. My father was a white and my
mother was black. Them call me half-caste or whatever. Me don't deh
pon nobody's side. Me don't deh pon the black man's side nor the
white man's side. Me deh pon God's side, the one who create me and
cause me to come from black and white.
Bob Marley died on 11 May 1981.
Although Marley recognised his mixed ancestry, throughout his life
and because of his beliefs, he self-identified as a black African,
following the ideas of Pan-African leaders. Marley stated that his
two biggest influences were the African-centered Marcus Garvey and
Haile Selassie. A central theme in Bob Marley's message was the
repatriation of black people to Zion, which in his view was
Ethiopia, or more generally, Africa. In songs such as
"Survival", "Babylon System", and "Blackman Redemption", Marley
sings about the struggles of blacks and Africans against oppression
from the West or "Babylon".
Marley and his step brother Bunny Wailer (Bob's mother had a
daughter with Bunny's father, younger sister to both of them)
started to play music while he was still at school, which he left at
the age of 14 to make music with Joe Higgs, a local singer and
devout Rastafari. At a jam session with Higgs and Livingston, 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. Marley was also
known to use an Epiphone guitar for much of his career.
Bob Marley & The Wailers
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
Though raised in the Catholic tradition, Marley became captivated by
Rastafarian beliefs in the 1960s, when away from his mother's
influence. Formally converted to Rastafari after returning to
Jamaica, Marley began 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 commercialise 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. This tape is, according to Reggae archivist Roger
Steffens, rare in that it was influenced by pop rather than reggae,
as part of an effort to break Marley into the 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". An artist yet to establish himself outside his
native Jamaica, Marley lived in Ridgmount Gardens, Bloomsbury,
London during 1972.
In 1972, the Wailers entered into an ill-fated deal with CBS Records
and embarked on a tour with American soul singer Johnny Nash. Broke,
the Wailers became stranded in London. Marley turned up at Island
Records founder and producer Chris Blackwell's London office, and
asked him to advance the cost of a new single. Since Jimmy Cliff,
Island's top reggae star, had recently left the label, Blackwell was
primed for a replacement. In Marley, Blackwell recognized the
elements needed to snare the rock audience: "I was dealing with rock
music, which was really rebel music. I felt that would really be the
way to break Jamaican music. But you needed someone who could be
that image. When Bob walked in he really was that image."
Blackwell told Marley he wanted The Wailers to record a complete
album (essentially unheard of at the time). When Marley told him it
would take between £3,000 and £4,000, Blackwell trusted him with the
greater sum. Despite their "rude boy" reputation, the Wailers
returned to Kingston and honored the deal, delivering the album
Catch A Fire.
Primarily recorded on eight-track at Harry J's in Kingston, Catch A
Fire marked the first time a reggae band had access to a
state-of-the-art studio and were accorded the same care as their
rock'n'roll peers. Blackwell desired to create "more of a
drifting, hypnotic-type feel than a reggae rhythm", and
restructured Marley's mixes and arrangements. Marley travelled to
London to supervise Blackwell's overdubbing of the album, which
included tempering the mix from the bass-heavy sound of Jamaican
music, and omitting two tracks.
The Wailers' first major label album, Catch a Fire was released
worldwide in April 1973, packaged like a rock record with a unique
Zippo lighter lift-top. Initially selling 14,000 units, it didn't
make Marley a star, but received a positive critical reception.
It was followed later that year by Burnin', which included the
standout songs "Get Up, Stand Up", and "I Shot the Sheriff", which
appealed to the ear of Eric Clapton. He recorded a cover of the
track in 1974 which became a huge American hit, raising Marley's
international profile. Many Jamaicans were not keen on the new
"improved" reggae sound on Catch A Fire, but the Trenchtown style of
Burnin' found fans across both reggae and rock audiences.
During this period, Blackwell gifted his Kingston residence and
company headquarters at 56 Hope Road (then known as Island House) to
Marley. Housing Tuff Gong Studios, the property became not only
Marley's office, but also his home.
The Wailers were scheduled to open 17 shows for the number one black
act in the States, Sly and the Family Stone. After 4 shows, the band
was fired because they were more popular than the acts they were
opening for. The Wailers broke up in 1974 with each of the three
main members pursuing solo careers. The reason for the breakup 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 work.
Despite the break-up, 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 United States,
Rastaman Vibration (1976), which spent four weeks on the Billboard
Hot 100. On 3 December 1976, two days before "Smile Jamaica", a
free concert organised 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, and after a month-long
"recovery and writing" sojourn at the site of Chris Blackwell's
Compass Point Studios in Nassau, Bahamas, arrived in England, where
he spent two years in self-imposed exile. Whilst there he recorded
the albums Exodus and Kaya. 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"). During his time in
London, he was arrested and received a conviction for possession of
a small quantity of cannabis. In 1978, Marley returned to
Jamaica and performed at another political concert, the One Love
Peace Concert, again in an effort to calm warring parties. Near the
end of the performance, by Marley's request, Michael Manley (leader
of then-ruling People's National Party) and his political rival
Edward Seaga (leader of the opposing Jamaica Labour Party), joined
each other on stage and shook hands.
Under the name Bob Marley and the Wailers eleven albums were
released, four live albums and seven studio albums. The releases
included Babylon by Bus, a double live album with thirteen tracks,
were released in 1978 and received critical acclaim. This album, and
specifically the final track "Jamming" with the audience in a
frenzy, captured the intensity of Marley's live performances.
"Marley wasn’t singing about how peace could come easily to the
World but rather how hell on Earth comes too easily to too many. His
songs were his memories; he had lived with the wretched, he had seen
the downpressers and those whom they pressed down." – Mikal
Gilmore, Rolling Stone Magazine
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 17 April celebration of Zimbabwe's
Independence Day. Uprising (1980) was Bob Marley's final studio
album, and is one of his most religious productions; it includes
"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
Jah · Afrocentrism · Ital · Zion · Cannabis use
Haile Selassie I · Jesus · Menen Asfaw · Marcus Garve
Bible · Kebra Nagast · The Promise Key ·Holy Piby · My Life and
Ethiopia's Progress · Royal Parchment Scroll of Black Supremacy
Branches and festivals
Mansions · in United States · Shashamane · Grounation Day ·
Leonard Howell · Joseph Hibbert · Mortimer Planno · Vernon
Carrington · Charles Edwards · Bob Marley · Peter Tosh
Bob Marley was a member of the Rastafari movement, whose culture was
a key element in the development of reggae. Bob Marley became an
ardent proponent of Rastafari, taking their music out of the
socially deprived areas of Jamaica and onto the international music
scene. He once gave the following response, which was typical, to a
question put to him during a recorded interview:
Interviewer: "Can you tell the people what it means
being a Rastafarian?"
Bob: "I would say to the people, Be still, and know that His
Imperial Majesty, Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia is the
Almighty. Now, the Bible seh so, Babylon newspaper seh so, and I and
I the children seh so. Yunno? So I don't see how much more reveal
our people want. Wha' dem want? a white God, well God come black.
Observant of the Rastafari practice Ital, a diet that shuns meat,
Marley was a vegetarian. According to his biographers, he
affiliated with the Twelve Tribes Mansion. He was in the
denomination known as "Tribe of Joseph", because he was born in
February (each of the twelve sects being composed of members born in
a different month). He signified this in his album liner notes,
quoting the portion from Genesis that includes Jacob's blessing to
his son Joseph. Marley was baptised by the Archbishop of the
Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Kingston, Jamaica, on 4 November
Bob Marley had a number of children: three with his wife Rita, two
adopted from Rita's previous relationships, and several others with
different women. The Bob Marley official website acknowledges eleven
Those listed on the official site are:
1.Sharon, born 23 November 1964, to Rita in previous relationship
2.Cedella born 23 August 1967, to Rita
3.David "Ziggy", born 17 October 1968, to Rita
4.Stephen, born 20 April 1972, to Rita
5.Robert "Robbie", born 16 May 1972, to Pat Williams
6.Rohan, born 19 May 1972, to Janet Hunt
7.Karen, born 1973 to Janet Bowen
8.Stephanie, born 17 August 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
9.Julian, born 4 June 1975, to Lucy Pounder
10.Ky-Mani, born 26 February 1976, to Anita Belnavis
11.Damian, born 21 July 1978, to Cindy Breakspeare
Makeda was born on 30 May 1981, to Yvette Crichton, after Marley's
death. Meredith Dixon's book lists her as Marley's child, but
she is not listed as such on the Bob Marley official website.
Various websites, for example, also list Imani Carole, born 22
May 1963 to Cheryl Murray; but she does not appear on the official
Bob Marley website.
Final years and death
Marley performing in Dalymount Park in the late 1970s
In July 1977, Marley was found to have a type of malignant melanoma
under the nail of one of his toes. Contrary to urban legend, this
lesion was not primarily caused by an injury during a football match
in that year, but was instead a symptom of the already existing
cancer. Marley turned down doctors' advice to have his toe
amputated, citing his religious beliefs. Despite his illness, he
continued touring and was in the process of scheduling a world tour
in 1980. The intention was for Inner Circle to be his opening act on
the tour but after their lead singer Jacob Miller died in Jamaica in
March 1980 after returning from a scouting mission in Brazil this
was no longer mentioned.
The album Uprising was released in May 1980 (produced by Chris
Blackwell), on which "Redemption Song" is particularly considered to
be about Marley coming to terms with his mortality.
The band completed a major tour of Europe, where they played their
biggest concert, to a hundred thousand people in Milan. After the
tour Marley went to America, where he performed two shows at Madison
Square Garden as part of the Uprising Tour.
The final concert of Bob Marley's career was held 23 September 2021
at the Stanley Theater (now called The Benedum Center For The
Performing Arts) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The audio recording of
that concert is now available on CD, vinyl, and digital music
Shortly after, Marley's health deteriorated and he became very ill;
the cancer had spread throughout his body. The rest of the tour was
cancelled and Marley sought treatment at the Bavarian clinic of
Josef Issels, where he received a controversial type of cancer
therapy (Issels treatment) partly based on avoidance of certain
foods, drinks, and other substances. After fighting the cancer
without success for eight months, Marley boarded a plane for his
home in Jamaica.
While flying home from Germany to Jamaica, Marley's vital functions
worsened. After landing in Miami, Florida, he was taken to the
hospital for immediate medical attention. He died at Cedars of
Lebanon Hospital in Miami (now University of Miami Hospital) on the
morning of 11 May 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 21 May 1981, which combined elements of
Ethiopian Orthodoxy and Rastafari tradition. He was buried in a
chapel near his birthplace with his red Gibson Les Paul (some
accounts say it was a Fender Stratocaster).
On 21 May 1981, Jamaican Prime Minister Edward Seaga delivered the
final funeral eulogy to Marley, declaring:
His voice was an omnipresent cry in our electronic world. His sharp
features, majestic looks, and prancing style a vivid etching on the
landscape of our minds. Bob Marley was never seen. He was an
experience which left an indelible imprint with each encounter. Such
a man cannot be erased from the mind. He is part of the collective
consciousness of the nation.
Marley has remained popular for decades after his death—one of many
memorials to him is this representation at Madame Tussaud Wax Museum
Bob Marley was the Third World's first pop superstar. He was the man
who introduced the world to the mystic power of reggae. He was a
true rocker at heart, and as a songwriter, he brought the lyrical
force of Bob Dylan, the personal charisma of John Lennon, and the
essential vocal stylings of Smokey Robinson into one voice.
— Jann Wenner, at Marley’s 1994 posthumous introduction into the
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
In 1999 Time magazine chose Bob Marley & The Wailers' Exodus as the
greatest album of the 20th century. In 2001, he 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. A statue was inaugurated, next to the national stadium on
Arthur Wint Drive in Kingston to commemorate him. 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 Boulevard". In 2008, a statue of Marley was inaugurated
in Banatski Sokolac, Serbia.
Internationally, Marley’s message also continues to reverberate
amongst various indigenous communities. For instance, the Aboriginal
people of Australia continue to burn a sacred flame to honor his
memory in Sydney’s Victoria Park, while members of the Native
American Hopi and Havasupai tribe revere his work. There are
also many tributes to Bob Marley throughout India, including
restaurants, hotels, and cultural festivals.
Marley has also evolved into a global symbol, which has been
endlessly merchandised through a variety of mediums. In light of
this, author Dave Thompson in his book Reggae and Caribbean Music,
laments what he perceives to be the commercialized pacification of
Marley's more militant edge, stating:
Bob Marley ranks among both the most popular and the most
misunderstood figures in modern culture ... That the machine has
utterly emasculated Marley is beyond doubt. Gone from the public
record is the ghetto kid who dreamed of Che Guevara and the Black
Panthers, and pinned their posters up in the Wailers Soul Shack
record store; who believed in freedom; and the fighting which it
necessitated, and dressed the part on an early album sleeve; whose
heroes were James Brown and Muhammad Ali; whose God was Ras Tafari
and whose sacrament was marijuana. Instead, the Bob Marley who
surveys his kingdom today is smiling benevolence, a shining sun, a
waving palm tree, and a string of hits which tumble out of polite
radio like candy from a gumball machine. Of course it has assured
his immortality. But it has also demeaned him beyond recognition.
Bob Marley was worth far more.
In February 2008, director Martin Scorsese announced his intention
to produce a documentary movie on Marley. The film was set to be
released on 6 February 2010, on what would have been Marley's 65th
birthday. However, Scorsese dropped out due to scheduling
problems. He was replaced by Jonathan Demme, who dropped out due
to creative differences with producer Steve Bing during the
beginning of editing. Kevin Macdonald replaced Demme and the
film, Marley, was released on 20 April 2012.
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 be executive
Ex-girlfriend and filmmaker Esther Anderson, along with Gian Godoy,
made the documentary Bob Marley: The Making of a Legend, which
premiered at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in 2011.
A Caribbean parasite Gnathia marleyi was named after
Main article: Bob Marley & The Wailers discography
The Wailing Wailers (1965)
Soul Rebels (1970)
Soul Revolution (1971)
The Best of The Wailers (1971)
Catch a Fire (1973)
Natty Dread (1974)
Rastaman Vibration (1976)
Awards and honors
Marley's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame 1976: Band of the Year
June 1978: Awarded the Peace Medal of the Third World from the
February 1981: Awarded Jamaica's third highest honour, the Jamaican
Order of Merit.
March 1994: Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
1999: Album of the Century for Exodus by Time Magazine.
February 2001: A star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
February 2001: Awarded Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
2004: Rolling Stone ranked him No.11 on their list of the 100
Greatest Artists of All Time.
"One Love" named song of the millennium by BBC.
Voted as one of the greatest lyricists of all time by a BBC
2006: A blue plaque was unveiled at his first UK residence in
Ridgmount Gardens, London, dedicated to him by Nubian Jak community
trust and supported by Her Majesty's Foreign Office.
2010: Catch a Fire inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame (Reggae
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