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6 February 1945 – 11 May 1981

Singer, songwriter and musician, Robert Nesta Marley was born in Nine Mile village, Saint Ann Parish, Jamaica. His mother,*Cedella Booker was an 18-year-old Jamaican born black woman, his father; Norval Marley was a 50-year-old white quartermaster originally from Essex, England who was attached to the British West Indian Regiment. The couple married in 1944, Robert Netsa Marley was born a year later. Though Norval Marley supported his new family financially, he would rarely see them due to pressure placed upon him by his family in England. In 1955, Norval Marley died of a heart attack at age 60. His son was just 10 years old.

Bob Marley was teased about his mixed racial origin as a youth. He would also be questioned about his racial identity and racial loyalty in later life. He is quoted to say…

“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 dip on nobody’s side. Me don’t dip on the black man’s side not 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.”

In the late fifties, Bob Marley moved to the capital Kingston with his mother and eventually settled in Trenchtown. Life was tough living among the many tenement yards occupied by the many hopeful inhabitants. Marley made friends with many youths in the area including Nevil O’Riley Livingston (later known as Bunny Wailer). As Livingston had already begun to explore the possibilities of a career in music, he was able to persuade Marley to do the same.

Marley quit school at 14 and took a job in a welding shop, but he would spend all his free time with Livingston perfecting their singing. The pair would also tune in to the American radio stations listening to artists such as Brook Benton, Curtis Mayfield, Ray Charles, Fats Domino and vocal groups such as the Drifters.

Marley and Livingston eventually met with local singer and devout Rastafarian Joe Higgs who held inspirational informal lessons for aspiring vocalists in the area. Peter Macintosh (Peter Tosh) was attending one of these sessions and the pair would find common ground.

In 1962, Marley attended an audition led by local entrepreneur Leslie Kong. Marley impressed Kong with his vocals so he invited him to the studio to record. Marley’s first recordings “Judge Not” “Terror” and “One Cup of Coffee” was released on Beverley’s label under the pseudonym of Bobby Martell. Though these tracks attracted little attention at the time, they would become sought after gems that would be re-released as part of a posthumous box set.

In 1963, Bob Marley linked up with Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh, Junior Braithwaite, Beverley Kelso and Cherry Smith to form a ska and rocksteady group. Initially they were known as The Teenagers, but would later change their name to The Wailing Rudeboys, then finally to the Wailing Wailers. The group would be mentored by Rastafarian hand drummer Alvin Patterson. After a successful audition with record producer Clement Dodd, The Wailing Wailers released their first single “Simmer Down” on Coxsone Dodd’s record label (Coxsone) towards the end of 1963. By January 1964, “Simmer Down” hit the top of the Jamaican charts; it would hold that position for two months. Over the next few years, The Wailing Wailers would release at least 30 singles firmly establishing them as consistent musicians; however, financial issues would soon cause friction within the band. By 1966, Braithwaite, Kelso and Cherry left the band. Marley married Rita Anderson and moved to Wilmington, Delaware in the United States where his mother had recently settled with her new husband. He worked as a DuPont lab assistant and with Chrysler on an assembly line under the alias Donald Marley.

Marley’s stay in the United States would be short lived. He worked long enough to finance his true passion. He returned to Jamaica 8 months later to rejoin Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer (The Wailers) to continue the quest.

Though Bob Marley was raised in the Catholic tradition, he had become captivated by Rastafarian beliefs. He formally converted to Rastafarianism shortly after returning to Jamaica and began to wear his trademark dreadlocks. Marley’s music had also changed to reflect his new beliefs. Gone were the Rude Boy anthems; he replaced them with lyrics that reflected conscious spiritual and social issues. Marley also added slower sensual rhythms which reflected the shift in the music direction globally.

By 1967, the Wailers were determined to control their own destiny so they formed their own record label ‘Wail ‘N’ Soul’ after leaving Coxsone Dod earlier in the year. However, despite initial successes, the lack of business acumen would prove fatal and the label folded by the end of the year. Commitment and faith would keep the band together. They would initially continue working in the music business as songwriters for the JAD label co owned by Johnny Nash and Danny Simms. It was during this period that Marley would pen “Stir It Up” which would be an international hit for Nash in 1972.The Wailers also worked with production genius Lee Perry and his studio band The Upsetters. The collaboration produced tracks that many believe as their finest work, such as “Soul Rebel”, Duppy Conqueror”, “400 Years” and “Small Axe”. These gems would definitely define the future of reggae.

In 1970, The Wailers were joined by ‘Jamaica’s hardest rhythm section’ in the form of Aston ‘Family Man’ Barret (bass) and his brother Carlton (drums). The pair had previously worked with the Wailers during their collaboration with Lee Perry.

In the summer of 1971, Johnny Nash secured a filmscore commission with a company in Sweden and asked Marley to accompany him on his travels. While the pair where in Europe, Marley was able to secure a record deal with CBS (a company Nash was already affiliated with). By the spring of 1972, the Wailers joined Marley in London to promote their debut single on CBS - “Reggae on Broadway”. Unfortunately, this reggae / funk single gained little attention and the group found themselves stranded in the UK with little financial support.

Island Records logo

At the twelfth hour, Marley walked into the Basing Street Studios of Island Records and requested a meeting with the company founder Chris Blackwell. Island had been one of the key players in the promotion and rise of Jamaican music in Britain over the past few years. The company was founded in the late fifties by Blackwell and was initially based in Jamaica. However, by 1962, Blackwell realised that by re-locating Island Records to London, he would be better placed to promote his signed artists in Britain. In 1962, Island Records re-established headquarters to London selling initially to Britain’s Jamaican population who had settled in Birmingham, London and Leeds. By now, the ska rhythm had taken hold in Britain fuelled by artists such as The Skatalites, Toots and the Maytels and Mille Small (My Boy Lollipop).

Being aware of Marley’s reputation in Jamaica, Blackwell advanced the Wailers £4000 to record an album. Such a figure would be seen as miniscule in rock and pop terms, however, this opportunity would be a first for Jamaican artists. This would be the first time a reggae band had access to modern recording facilities. Marley and the Wailers released material would now also receive specialised packaging and promotion.

When Blackwell auditioned the initial recordings, he enlisted the additional assistance of rock / R&B musicians John ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick (The Who keyboardist) and Wayne Perkins (guitarist) to ‘bolster’ the raw skank of the Wailers debut album “Catch A Fire”. Though this decision would be seen by many as tampering, or ‘commercialising’ of the Wailers sound, the overall result would mean that “Catch A Fire” would receive attention from the tightly controlled strict play-listed radio stations.

Bob Marley &The Wailers - Catch A Fire

“Catch A Fire” was released in 1973. Though it was not an instant hit, Marley’s name, lyrical stance and hard dance rhythms were now know reaching a wider audience.

In April 1973, Marley and band embarked on a tour of Britain and America; however, Bunny Wailer became disenchanted with life on the road and left the group at the end of their British tour. The band’s original vocal teacher Joe Higgs took over from Wailer on tour and they continued with the American leg supporting artists such as Bruce Springsteen and Sly & The Family Stone.

Island Records also released the Wailers second album “Burnin’” in 1973. This album contained some of the band’s re-recorded versions of older songs such as “Small Axe” and “Put It On” as well as previously un-recorded tracks such as “Get Up Stand Up” and “I Shot The Sherriff”.

The I-Threes

1974 would prove to be a fruitful as well as a challenging year for Marley and fellow band members. Eric Clapton scored an international hit with “I Shot The Sheriff”, further raising Marley’s profile. Marley committed much of his time to the studio recording sessions that would eventually produce the seminal “Natty Dread” (released February 1975). However, for varying reasons Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh decided to leave the group. (Officially to concentrate on solo careers). By the summer of 1975, Marley was back on the road again with a new backing band. The group was renamed ‘Bob Marley & The Wailers’ and included brothers Carlton Barrett (drums) Aston “Family Man” Barrett (bass) Junior Marvin, Al Anderson on lead guitar, Tyrone Downie and Earl “Wya” Lindo on keyboards and Alvin “Seeco” Patterson on percussion. Marley’s wife Rita, Marcia Griffiths and Judy Mowatt (afectiontly know as the I-Threes), replaced the missing harmonies of Wailer and Tosh. Marley and the newly formed Wailers went on to produce many memorable live performances, most notably- the live performances at the Lyceum Ballroom in London. These performances were recorded, and are still celebrated as ‘highlights of the decade’ by all who attended. The subsequent album “Bob Marley & the Wailers Live” together with the 12” “No Woman No Cry” entered the British national charts further cementing Marley’s popularity in Britain.

In 1976, Marley & The Wailers cracked the American charts with the album “Rastaman Vibration”. For many, this album was the clearest exposition yet of Marley’s music and beliefs.

By this time, Marley’s political importance in Jamaica had intensified. He was seen by many to hold the key to calm the turmoil and murders that infested the slums of Kingston, Jamaica. Marley decided to attend a free concert named ‘Smile Jamaica’, to be held on December 5, 1976 at Kingston’s National Heroes Park. However, Michael Manley’s government called for an election for December 20 and the subsequent campaign was a signal for renewed tensions and ghetto war. On the eve of the concert, gunmen broke into Marley’s home shooting and wounding Marley, his wife Rita and manager Don Taylor. Fortunately, all three made a full recovery and Marley defiantly performed at the concert as scheduled.

Marley left Jamaica after at the end of 1976 and settled in London. Here he would record the much-celebrated albums “Exodus” (1977) and Kaya (1978). Both albums and subsequent single releases hit the UK charts. Marley & The Wailers also played a week of live dates at London’s Rainbow Theatre.

Michael Manley, Bob Marley & Edward Seaga

In April 1978, Marley returned to Jamaica to perform at the One Love Peace Concert. Toward s the end of the concert Marley was able to persuade political party leaders Michael Manley and rival Edward Seaga to join him on stage to shake hands. Marley then clasped the hands of both party leaders and held them aloft for all to see. Marley was then invited to the United Nations in New York to receive the organisation’s Medal of Peace. He would also visit Kenya and then on to Ethiopia (spiritual home of Rastafari).

In 1980, Bob Marley & The Wailers continued to tour the globe, performing in countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and specifically at Zimbabwe’s Independence Ceremony in April, 1980. The group’s European tour highlights included performing in front of a 100,000-capacity crowd in Milan. The album “Uprising” reached every chart in Europe and plans were being made for the group to tour America with Stevie Wonder. After their successful European tour, Marley & The wailers did play two shows at Madison Square Garden in America; however, Marley fell ill soon afterwards.

Marley was an ardent football fan. In 1977, he injured his toe while playing football in London. Tests revealed he had contracted acral lentiginous melanoma (a form of malignant melanoma). Marley did receive treatment, however, by 1980; the cancer had spread through his body. Marley attended the clinic of Dr. Joseph Issels in Bravaria to receive further treatment. Issels’ treatment was controversial as it involved the avoidance of certain foods, drinks and other non-toxic substances. Marley seemed to be responding at first, however, after eight months of continual treatment his condition worsened. On May 11, 1981 Bob Marley died at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Miami, he was 36 years old. His last words to his son Ziggy Marley were “Money can’t buy life”.

On May 21, 1981, Marley received a state funeral in Jamaica. His body was taken to his birthplace at Nine Mile, where it rests in a mausoleum.

(Marley is survived by his wife Rita and 13 children. (Actual number of children is unconfirmed).

*Cedella Booker passed away in her sleep from natural causes at her home in Miami on 10 April 2008. She was 81 years of age.

Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding praised her in his statement: “She was a star in her own right. Her life was one of hardship, struggle and eventual fulfillment and, through it all, she exuded hope, strength and confidence.”

Bob Marley's  Walk of Fame Star




Honours & Awards




Band of the year
1976. Band of the year. Awarded by Rolling Stone magazine.

Peace Medal
1978. Peace Medal of the Third World. From the United Nations.

Jamaica’s Order Of Merit
1981. Awarded Jamaica’s Order Of Merit in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the country’s culture.

Commemorative series of postage stamps
1981.Commemorative series of postage stamps issued in Jamaica.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
1994. Bob Marley was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Greatest album of the 20th Century
1999. Bob Marley & The Wailers’ album “Exodus” named the greatest album of the 20th Century by Time magazine.

Statue of Marley
2001. Statue of Marley inaugurated next to national stadium in Kingston Jamaica.

Walk of Fame star
2001. A Hollywood Walk of Fame star.

Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award
2001. Posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

Greatest Artist of All Time list
2004. Ranked #11 on the Rolling Stone Greatest Artist of All Time list.

Song of the millennium
2004. “One Love” named song of the millennium by the BBC.

Greatest lyricists of all time
2004. Bob Marley voted as one of the greatest lyricists of all time by a BBC poll.

Plaque dedicated to Bob Marley
2006. A plaque dedicated to Bob Marley from the Nubian Jak Community Trust.

Grammy Hall of Fame
2010. The album “Catch A Fire” inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Robin Francis
© Michael Valentine Studio Ltd.

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Legend Exodus Live Uprising
Catch A Fire Burnin' Natty Dread Rastaman Vibration



Click Marcia Griffiths' image below to view her photographs
@ Respect Jamaica's 50 Celebration...

Marcia Griffiths @ the Indigo 02 (click to go to her page)

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