Written By Thirdfield.com's Mike Peake.
In the year 1944, Captain Norval Marley married a young Jamaican girl named Cedalla Booker. On February 6, 1945 at two thirty in the morning their son, Robert Nesta Marley was born in his grandfather's house. Soon after Bob was born his father left his mother. He did however give financial support and occasionally returned to see his son.
It was now the late fifties, jobs were scarce in Jamaica, so Bob followed his mother from their home in St. Ann to Trenchtown (West Kingston) to seek employment in the big city. Trenchtown got it's name because it was built over a ditch which drained the sewage of old Kingston. In Trenchtown Bob spent a lot of his time with his good friend Neville Livingstone who people called by his nickname, Bunny. Also in the big city Bob was more exposed to the music which he had loved, including such greats as Fats Domino and Ray Charles. Bob and Bunny attended a music class together which was held by the famous Jamaican singer Joe Higgs. In that class they met Peter Macintosh and soon became good friends. In the meantime Jamaican music evolving and became very popular throughout the Caribbean due to it's invention of Ska music. When Bob was 16, he started to follow his dream of becoming a musician. Music to many young Jamaicans was an escape from the harshness of everyday life. One of those kids was Jimmy Cliff who at the age of 14 had already recorded a couple of hits. After meeting Bob, Jimmy introduced him to Leslie Kong, a local record producer. Bob followed his advice and auditioned for Leslie Kong. Bob's musical talents shone much more brightly then anyone else that day and found himself in the studio recording his first single "Judge Not". Unfortunately neither "Judge Not" nor his 1962 single "One more cup of Coffee" did very well. Bob soon left Kong after she failed to give him his pay. The following year Bob, Bunny and some other friends formed the Wailing Wailers. The didn't get off to a great start, after just a couple recording sessions two members, Cherry and Junior Braithwait left the band. The band continued on and were introduced to Clemet Dodd, a producer of the record company Coxsone. It was here where the Wailing Wailers recorded the first song "Simmer Down" which did quite well in Jamaica. To help with the recording of their songs the studio provided several talented Ska musicians. The Wailing Wailers consisting now of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny were starting to become quite popular locally. Their audiences rapidly grew and they recorded several more songs on the Coxsone label which included "It Hurts to be Alone" and "Rule the Roadie" Bob soon took on the role of the leader, being the main songwriter and all. Bob's life continued to look more bright on February 10, 1966 when Bob Marley married girlfriend Rita Anderson. The next day Bob left for the United States to visit his mother who lived in Delaware. While in the US he worked to better finance his music and soon returned home. When Bob Marley returned the Wailing Wailers' music evolved from Ska to Rock Steady. This evolution conflicted with Coxsone who wanted a Ska band. So the newly Wailing Wailers left Coxsone to form and renamed themselves the Wailers. Instead of looking around for a new label the Wailers decided to form their own which they called Wail 'N' Soul. This coincided with the birth of the Marley's first born who they named Cedalla. They released a couple signals on their label such as "Bend down low" and "Mellow Mood" before it folded the very same year. The ending of their label affected the band greatly, it wasn't until they met Lee Perry that they got back on track. With the help of Lee Perry the Wailers produced such great tracks as "Duppy Conquerer", "Soul Rebel", "400 Years" and "Small Axe".
1970 saw the Wailers family grow with the addition of Aston "Family Man" Barret and his brother Carleton. The Wailers were now quite popular throughout the Caribbean but still internationally unknown. With this popularity a second more successful label was formed by the Wailers called Tuff Gong after a nickname of Bob Marley. The Wailers met Johnny Nash and soon Bob accompanied Nash to Sweden and London. When in London, Bob recorded "Reggae on Broadway" which was released by CBS. After this the rest of the Wailers arrived in London to help promote the single only to find that there were out of money and stranded there. With little options available, Bob went into the Island Records Basing Street Studios and asked to speak to the boss, Chris Blackwell with hopes of a possible record deal. Mr. Blackwell had already heard of the Wailers and signed them on the spot. He advanced them eight thousand pounds so that they could fly back home and record their first album for Island. This was a massive deal, for the first time a reggae band would have access to the finest recording facilities. The album they released was "Catch a Fire", it was very well received by critics and was one of the first reggae albums. Before the Wailers reggae was sold on signals or compilation albums.
In the Spring of 1973 the Wailers arrived back in London to kick off their three month tour of Britain. At the conclusion of the tour they returned back to Jamaica where Bunny decided to quit touring. He was replaced by Joe Higgs. The Wailers along with Higgs travelled to the US were they were scheduled to open 17 shows for the number one black act in the States, Sly and the Family Stone. The Wailers were fired after 4 shows because they were more popular then they band the opened for, the crowd often chanted "Wail-ers" well into the Sly and the Family Stone set. Also they opened a couple dates for Bruce Springsteen. After Sly and the Family Stone axed the Wailers they found themselves once again without money and stranded, this time in Las Vegas. Somehow they found their way to San Fransico. While there they did a live concert broadcast for the radio station KSAN-FM. The whole experience boosted their popularity in North America.
With 1973 winding down the Wailers released the much anticipated follow up album to "Catch a Fire" called "Burnin". On this album many Wailer classics appear such as "I shot the Sheriff" and "Get Up Stand Up". The Wailers popularity in North America grew even more when Eric Clapton re-recorded "I Shot the Sheriff", becoming a number one hit on the US singles charts.
1975 saw the release of the Wailers's third album, "Natty Dread" with such great tracks as "Talking Blues", "No Woman No Cry" and "Revolution". On the down side though two thirds of the original Wailing Wailers, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer quit the band to pursue solo careers. This caused the band to change their name again. This time to Bob Marley and the Wailers. The departure of the two members created a hole in the backing vocal section, this hole was filled and then some by the I-Threes (Rita Marley, Judy Mowatts and Marcia Grittiths). That summer the band started a new European tour. Two of those shows were at the Lyceum Ballroom, both shows were considered among the top of the decade. Both shows were recorded and made the album "Live!" which included the unforgettable live version "No Woman No Cry" which was a world wide hit. The band underwent more changes with the addition of Al Anderson and Bernard Harvey who were later replaced by Junior Marvin and Tyrone Downie. The last time the original Wailers ever played together was at a Stevie Wonder concert for the Jamaican Institute for the blind. Bob Marley and the Wailers continued their roll releasing the incredible album "Rasta man Vibration" in 1976. This capped off a type of Reggae-Mania happening in the states. Rolling Stone named them band of the year. On the Rasta man Vibration album was the powerful track "War" which lyrics came from a speech given by Emperor Haile Selassie. Bob Marley decided to play a free concert at Kingston's National Heroes Park on December 5, 1976. The idea behind the concert was a peaceful message against the ghetto wars happening in Trenchtown at the time. Tragedy struck two days before that he get on stage, gunmen broke into the Marley home and shot at Bob, Rita, and two friends. Luckily no one was killed. Despite this Bob Marley went on to put on a memorable show two days later at the Smile Jamaica concert. Following the show the band left for the UK. While they were there they recorded 1977's "Exodus". Possibly their best album to date, it solidified the band's international stardom. It went number one in many countries including England and Germany. It was also one of the top albums of the year.
During their European tour, the band did a week of shows at the Rainbow Theatre in London. It was at the start of the tour when Bob injured his toe playing football. It was later diagnosed as cancerous. Also during this tour Bob received a very important ring, who's previous owner was the Ethiopian Emperor. In May Bob was informed of his cancer. His cancer would most certainly be taken care of by amputating the toe but Bob refused. To do so would be against his Rastafarian faith. With this news the remainder of the Exodus tour was cancelled. His illness didn't prevent him from recording music though, 1978 saw the release of "Kaya" which had a much more mellow sound then previous albums. Bob was accused of selling out because many of the songs were love songs or tributes to ganja (marijuana). Rastafarians believed the smoking the holy herb would bring them closer to Jah (god).
In April 1978, Bob returned to Jamaica to play the One Love Peace Concert. In attendance was Jamaican President Michael Manley and the leader of the Opposition Edward Seaga. It was Bob who got them on stage and even got them to shake hands. On June 15 he was awarded the Peace Medal of the Third World from the United Nations. For the first time he visited Africa going to Kenya and Ethiopia. On this trip he started to work on the song "Zimbabwe". The band also released their second live album "Babylon by Bus" with was recorded in Paris. The album which followed it was Survival in 1978. Throughout the album the theme of black survival was evident. The Seventies were now coming to a close, Bob Marley and the Wailers were the most popular band on the road breaking many festival records. In 1980 the band found themselves in Gabon to perform in Africa for the first time. Here Bob Marley discovered that there manager had defrauded the band, Bob gave him a beating and fired him. The Zimbabwean government invited the whole band to perform at the countries Independence Ceremony in April. Bob later said of the invitation to be the biggest honour of his life.
After the amazing honour and experience Bob Marley continue to record, "Uprising" was released in 1980. Everything was looking bright, the band was planning an American tour with Stevie Wonder for that winter. Bob's health was deteriorating, but he still got clearance from a doctor to go on the road. The tour started with Boston, followed by New York. During the New York show Bob's looked very sick and he almost fainted. The next morning on Sept. 21 while jogging through Central, Bob collapsed and was brought to the hospital. There a brain tumour was discovered and doctors gave him a month to live. Rita Marley wanted the tour cancelled but Bob wanted to continue on. He played an unforgettable show in Pittsburgh but was too ill to continue so the tour was finally cancelled. It would be the last show he ever performed. Treatment prolonged his life somewhat but the inevitable was soon to happening. Bob was transported to a Miami hospital where he was baptized Berhane Selassie in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church on November 4. In a final attempt to save his life he underwent a controversial treatment in Germany. While in Germany he celebrated his 36th and final birthday. Ultimately the treatment didn't work. Bob wanted to die at home so he was flown back. Unfortunately he didn't finish the trip, he died on May 11, 1981 in a Miami hospital. He was internationally mourned for and thousands showed up at his May 21 funeral to show their respects. In attendance wereboth the Jamaican President and the Leader of the Opposition. Bob Marley now rests in a mausoleum at his birthplace. After his death he was awarded Jamaica's Order of Merit. The Prophet Gad insisted on becoming the owner of Bob's ring. However, amazingly the ring the disappeared and still has yet to be found. Bob's mother said that the ring was returned to it's place of origin.
Bob Marley knew of his fate. Being a visionary he foresaw this, his words will forever be immortalized in the lyrics in which he wrote.
"One bright morning when my work is over I will fly away home"
This was written by Mike Peake, Friday March 20, 1998.
The Bob Marley biography provides testament to the unparalleled influence of his artistry upon global culture. Since his passing on May 11, 1981, Bob Marley’s legend looms larger than ever, as evidenced by an ever-lengthening list of accomplishments attributable to his music, which identified oppressors and agitated for social change while simultaneously allowing listeners to forget their troubles and dance.
Bob Marley was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994; in December 1999, his 1977 album “Exodus” was named Album of the Century by Time Magazine and his song “One Love” was designated Song of the Millennium by the BBC. Since its release in 1984, Marley’s “Legend” compilation has annually sold over 250,000 copies according to Nielsen Sound Scan, and it is only the 17th album to exceed sales of 10 million copies since SoundScan began its tabulations in 1991.
Bob Marley’s music was never recognized with a Grammy nomination but in 2001 he was bestowed The Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, an honor given by the Recording Academy to “performers who during their lifetimes, have made creative contributions of outstanding artistic significance to the field of recording.” That same year, a feature length documentary about Bob Marley’s life, Rebel Music, directed by Jeremy Marre, was nominated for a Grammy for Best Long Form Music Video documentary. In 2001 Bob Marley was accorded the 2171st star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame by the Hollywood Historic Trust and the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, in Hollywood, California. As a recipient of this distinction, Bob Marley joined musical legends including Carlos Santana, Stevie Wonder and The Temptations.
In 2006 an eight block stretch of Brooklyn’s bustling Church Avenue, which runs through the heart of that city’s Caribbean community, was renamed Bob Marley Boulevard, the result of a campaign initiated by New York City councilwoman Yvette D. Clarke. This year the popular TV show Late Night with Jimmy Fallon commemorated the 30th anniversary of Bob Marley’s passing with an entire week (May 9-13) devoted to his music, as performed by Bob’s eldest son Ziggy, Jennifer Hudson, Lauryn Hill, Lenny Kravitz and the show’s house band The Roots. These triumphs are all the more remarkable considering Bob Marley’s humble beginnings and numerous challenges he overcame attempting to gain a foothold in Jamaica’s chaotic music industry while skillfully navigating the politically partisan violence that abounded in Kingston throughout the 1970s.
One of the 20th century’s most charismatic and challenging performers, Bob Marley’s renown now transcends the role of reggae luminary: he is regarded as a cultural icon who implored his people to know their history “coming from the root of King David, through the line of Solomon,” as he sang on “Blackman Redemption”; Bob urged his listeners to check out the “Real Situation” and to rebel against the vampiric “Babylon System”. “Bob had a rebel type of approach, but his rebelliousness had a clearly defined purpose to it,” acknowledges Chris Blackwell, the founder of Island Records, who played a pivotal role in the Bob Marley biography by introducing Marley and the Wailers to an international audience. “It wasn’t just mindless rebelliousness, he was rebelling against the circumstances in which he and so many people found themselves.”
Bob Marley was born Robert Nesta Marley on February 6, 1945. Bob was born to Cedella Marley when she was 18. Bob’s early life was spent in rural community of Nine Miles, nestled in the mountainous terrain of the parish of St. Ann. Residents of Nine Miles have preserved many customs derived from their African ancestry especially the art of storytelling as a means of sharing the past and time-tested traditions that are oftentimes overlooked in official historical sources. The proverbs, fables and various chores associated with rural life that were inherent to Bob’s childhood would provide a deeper cultural context and an aura of mysticism to his adult songwriting.
Norval and Cedella married in 1945 but Captain Marley’s family strongly disapproved of their union; although the elder Marley provided financial support, the last time Bob Marley saw his father was when he was five years old; at that time, Norval took his son to Kingston to live with his nephew, a businessman, and to attend school. Eighteen months later Cedella learned that Bob wasn’t going to school and was living with an elderly couple. Alarmed, she went to Kingston, found Bob and brought him home to Nine Miles.
The next chapter in the Bob Marley biography commenced in the late 1950s when Bob, barely into his teens, left St. Ann and returned to Jamaica’s capital. He eventually settled in the western Kingston vicinity of Trench Town, so named because it was built over a sewage trench. A low-income community comprised of squatter-settlements and government yards developments that housed a minimum of four families, Bob Marley quickly learned to defend himself against Trench Town’s rude boys and bad men. Bob’s formidable street-fighting skills earned him the respectful nickname Tuff Gong.
Despite the poverty, despair and various unsavory activities that sustained some ghetto dwellers, Trench Town was also a culturally rich community where Bob Marley’s abundant musical talents were nurtured. A lifelong source of inspiration, Bob immortalized Trench Town in his songs “No Woman No Cry” (1974), “Trench Town Rock” (1975) and “Trench Town”, the latter released posthumously in 1983.
By the early 1960s the island’s music industry was beginning to take shape, and its development gave birth to an indigenous popular Jamaican music form called ska. A local interpretation of American soul and R&B, with an irresistible accent on the offbeat, ska exerted a widespread influence on poor Jamaican youth while offering a welcomed escape from their otherwise harsh realities. Within the burgeoning Jamaican music industry, the elusive lure of stardom was now a tangible goal for many ghetto youths.
Uncertain about the prospects of a music career for her son, Cedella encouraged Bob to pursue a trade. When Bob left school at 14 years old she found him a position as a welder’s apprentice, which he reluctantly accepted. After a short time on the job a tiny steel splinter became embedded in Bob’s eye. Following that incident, Bob promptly quit welding and solely focused on his musical pursuits.
At 16 years old Bob Marley met another aspiring singer Desmond Dekker, who would go on to top the UK charts in 1969 with his single “Israelites”. Dekker introduced Marley to another young singer, Jimmy Cliff, future star of the immortal Jamaican film “The Harder They Come”, who, at age 14, had already recorded a few hit songs. In 1962 Cliff introduced Marley to producer Leslie Kong; Marley cut his first singles for Kong: “Judge Not”, “Terror” and “One More Cup of Coffee”, a cover of the million selling country hit by Claude Gray. When these songs failed to connect with the public, Marley was paid a mere $20.00, an exploitative practice that was widespread during the infancy of Jamaica’s music business. Bob Marley reportedly told Kong he would make a lot of money from his recordings one day but he would never be able to enjoy it. Years later, when Kong released a best of The Wailers compilation against the group’s wishes, he suffered a fatal heart attack at age 37.
In 1963 Bob Marley and his childhood friend Neville Livingston a.k.a. Bunny Wailer began attending vocal classes held by Trench Town resident Joe Higgs, a successful singer who mentored many young singers in the principles of rhythm, harmony and melody. In his Trench Town yard, Higgs introduced Bob and Bunny to Peter (Macintosh) Tosh and The Bob Marley and the Wailers legend was born. The trio quickly became good friends so the formation of a vocal group, The Wailing Wailers, was a natural progression; Higgs played a pivotal role in guiding their musical direction. Additional Wailing Wailers members included Junior Braithwaite, Beverly Kelso, and Cherry Smith but they departed after just a few recording sessions.
Bob, Bunny and Peter were introduced to Clement Sir Coxsone Dodd, a sound system operator turned producer; Dodd was also the founder of the seminal Jamaican record label Studio One. With their soulful harmonies, influenced primarily by American vocal group Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions, and lyrics that echoed the struggles facing Jamaica’s poor, the Wailers attained a sizeable local following. The Wailers’ first single for Studio One “Simmer Down”, with Bob cautioning the ghetto youths to control their tempers or “the battle would be hotter”, reportedly sold over 80,000 copies. The Wailers went on to record several hits for Coxsone including “Rude Boy”, “I’m Still Waiting,” and an early version of “One Love”, the song the BBC would designate as the Song of the Century some thirty-five years later.
By the mid 60s, the jaunty ska beat had metamorphosed into the slower paced rocksteady sound, which soon gave way to Jamaica’s signature reggae rhythm around 1968. Dodd had not made a corresponding shift in his label’s releases nor did he embrace the proliferation of lyrics imbued with Rastafarian beliefs that were essential to reggae’s development. Declining sales of the Wailers’ Studio One singles compounded by a lack of proper financial compensation from Dodd prompted their departure from Studio One.
Cedella Booker, meanwhile, decided to relocate to the US state of Delaware in 1966. That same year Bob Marley married Rita Anderson and joined his mother in Delaware for a few months, where he worked as a DuPont lab assistant and on an assembly line at a Chrysler plant under the alias Donald Marley.
In his absence from Jamaica, His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I visited the island from April 21-24, 1966. His Majesty is revered as Lord and Savior, according to Rastafarian beliefs and his visit to Jamaica had a profound impact upon Rita and Bob. Bob soon adopted the Rastafarian way of life and began wearing his hair in dreadlocks.
Upon Bob’s return to Jamaica, The Wailers established the Wail’N Soul’M label/record shop in front of his aunt’s Trench Town home. The label’s name identified its primary acts: The Wailers and The Soulettes, a female vocal trio featuring Rita Marley. A few successful Wailers’ singles were released including “Bend Down Low” b/w “Mellow Mood” but due to lack of resources, the Wailers dissolved Wail’N Soul’M in 1968.
As the 1970s commenced, soaring unemployment, rationed food supplies, pervasive political violence and the IMF’s stranglehold on the Jamaican economy due to various structural adjustment policies heavily influenced the keen social consciousness that came to define Bob’s lyrics.
In 1970 the Wailers forged a crucial relationship with Jamaican producer Lee “Scratch” Perry, a pioneer in the development of dub, the reggae offshoot where the drum and bass foundation is moved to the forefront. Perry wisely paired The Wailers with the nucleus of his studio band The Upsetters, brothers Carlton and Aston “Family Man” Barrett, respectively playing drums and bass. Collectively they forged a revolutionary sonic identity, as heard on tracks like “Duppy Conqueror”, “400 Years” and “Soul Rebel”, which established an enduring paradigm for roots reggae. The Wailers’ collaborations with Perry were featured on the album “Soul Rebels” (1970) the first Wailers album released in the UK. The Wailers’ reportedly severed their relationship with Perry when they realized he was the sole recipient of royalties from the sales of “Soul Rebels”.
In 1971 Bob Marley went to Sweden to collaborate on a film score with American singer Johnny Nash. Bob secured a contract with Nash’s label CBS Records and by early 1972 The Wailers were in London promoting their single “Reggae On Broadway”; CBS, however, had little faith in Marley and The Wailers’ success and abruptly abandoned the group there. Marley paid a chance visit to the London offices of Island Records and the result was a meeting with label founder Chris Blackwell. Marley sought the finances to record a single but Blackwell suggested the group record an album and advanced them £4,000, an unheard of sum to be given to a Jamaican act.
Island’s top reggae star Jimmy Cliff had recently left the label and Blackwell saw Marley as the ideal artist to fill that void and attract an audience primed for rock music. “I was dealing with rock music, which was really rebel music and 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 once reflected. Despite their “rude boy” reputation, the Wailers returned to Kingston and honored their agreement with Blackwell. They delivered their “Catch A Fire” album in April 1973 to extensive international media fanfare. Tours of Britain and the US were quickly arranged and the life of Bob Marley was forever changed. Bunny Wailer refused to participate in the US leg of the “Catch A Fire” tour so the Wailers’ mentor Joe Higgs served as his replacement. Their US gigs included an opening slot for a then relatively unknown Bruce Springsteen in New York City. The Wailers toured with Sly and the Family Stone, who were at their peak in the early 70s, but were removed after just four dates because their riveting performances, reportedly, upstaged the headliner.
Following the successful “Catch A Fire” tour the Wailers promptly recorded their second album for Island Records, “Burnin”, which was released in October 1973. Featuring some of Bob’s most celebrated songs “Burnin” introduced their timeless anthem of insurgency “Get Up Stand Up” and “I Shot The Sheriff”, which Eric Clapton covered and took to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in 1974; Clapton’s cover significantly elevated Bob Marley’s international profile, the same year that Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer left the group.
Bob Marley’s third album for Island Records “Natty Dread”, released in October 1975, was the first credited to Bob Marley and The Wailers; the harmonies of Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer were replaced with the soulfulness of the I-Threes, Rita Marley, Marcia Griffiths and Judy Mowatt. The Wailers band now included Family Man and Carly Barrett, Junior Marvin on rhythm guitar, Al Anderson on lead guitar, Tyrone Downie and Earl “Wya” Lindo on keyboards and Alvin “Seeco” Patterson playing percussion. Characterized by spiritually and socially conscious lyrics, the “Natty Dread” album included a rousing blues-influenced celebration of reggae, “Lively Up Yourself”, which Bob used to open many of his concerts; the joy he experienced among friends amidst the struggles of his Trench Town youth is poignantly conveyed on “No Woman No Cry”, while the essential title track played a significant role in introducing Rastafarian culture and philosophies to the world. A commercial as well as a critical success, “Natty Dread” peaked at no. 44 on Billboard’s Black Albums chart and no. 92 on the Pop Albums chart.
The following year Bob embarked on a highly successful European tour in support of “Natty Dread”, which included two nights at London’s Lyceum Theater. The Lyceum performances were captured on Bob’s next release for Island, “Bob Marley and the Wailers Live”, which featured a melancholy version of “No Woman No Cry” that reached the UK top 40.
Bob Marley catapulted to international stardom in 1976 with the release of “Rastaman Vibration”, his only album to reach the Billboard Top 200, peaking at no. 8. With the inclusion of “Crazy Baldhead”, which decries “brainwash education” and the stirring title cut, “Rastaman Vibration” presented a clearer understanding of Rastafari teachings to the mainstream audience that was now attentively listening to Bob. Also included was “War”, its lyrics adapted from an impassioned speech to the United Nations General Assembly in 1963, delivered by Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I whom Rastafarians consider a living God. Thirty-five years after its initial release “War” remains an unassailable anthem of equality, its empowering spirit embraced by dispossessed people everywhere.
As 1976 drew to a close Bob Marley was now regarded as a global reggae ambassador who had internationally popularized Rastafarian beliefs. At home, that distinction fostered an immense sense of pride among those who embraced Bob’s messages. But Bob’s expanding influence was also a point of contention for others in Jamaica, which was brutally divided by political alliances. With the intention of suppressing simmering tensions between Jamaica’s rival People’s National Party (PNP) and the Jamaica Labor Party (JLP), Bob agreed to a request by Jamaica’s Ministry of Culture to headline a (non partisan) free concert, Smile Jamaica, to be held on December 5, 1976 in Kingston. Two days prior to the event, as Bob Marley and The Wailers rehearsed at his Kingston home, an unsuccessful assassination attempt was made on his life. Gunmen sprayed Bob’s residence with bullets but miraculously, no one was killed; Bob escaped with minor gunshot wounds, Rita underwent surgery to remove a bullet that grazed her head but she was released from the hospital the next day. Bob’s manager Don Taylor was shot five times and critically wounded; he was airlifted to Miami’s Cedars of Lebanon Hospital for the removal of a bullet lodged against his spinal cord.
If the ambush in the night at Bob Marley’s home was an attempt to prevent him from performing at the Smile Jamaica concert or a warning intended to silence the revolutionary spirit within his music, then it had failed miserably. Bob defiantly performed “War” at the Smile Jamaica concert, which reportedly drew 80,000 people but shortly thereafter he went into seclusion and few people knew of his whereabouts.
Three months after the Smile Jamaica concert, Bob flew to London where he lived for the next year and a half; there he recorded the albums “Exodus” (1977) and “Kaya” (1978). Exodus’ title track provided a call for change, “the movement of Jah people”, incorporating spiritual and political concerns into its groundbreaking amalgam of reggae, rock and soul-funk. A second single, the sultry dance tune “Jamming” became a British top 10 hit. The “Exodus” album remained on the UK charts for a staggering 56 consecutive weeks, bringing a level of commercial success to Bob Marley and the Wailers that had previously eluded the band.
In a more laid back vein, the “Kaya” album hit no. 4 on the British charts, propelled by the popularity of the romantic singles “Satisfy My Soul” and “Is This Love?” Kaya’s title track extols the herb Marley used throughout his lifetime; the somber “Running Away,” and the haunting “Time Will Tell” are deep reflections on the December 1976 assassination attempt. The release of “Kaya” coincided with Bob Marley’s triumphant return to Jamaica for a performance at the One Love Peace Concert, held on April 22, 1978 at Kingston’s National Stadium. The event was another effort aimed at curtailing the rampant violence stemming from the senseless PNP-JLP rivalries; the event featured 16 prominent reggae acts and was dubbed a “Third World Woodstock”. In the concert’s most memorable scenario, Bob Marley summoned JLP leader Edward Seaga and Prime Minister Michael Manley onstage. As the Wailers pumped out the rhythm to “Jamming”, Bob urged the politicians to shake hands; clasping his left hand over theirs, he raised their arms aloft and chanted “Jah Rastafari”. In recognition of his courageous attempt to bridge Jamaica’s cavernous political divide, Bob traveled to the United Nations in New York where he received the organization’s Medal of Peace on June 6, 1978.
At the end of 1978 Bob made his first trip to Africa, visiting Kenya and Ethiopia, the latter being the spiritual home of Rastafari. During his Ethiopian sojourn, Bob stayed in Shashamane, a communal settlement situated on 500-acres of land donated by His Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I to Rastafarians that choose to repatriate to Ethiopia. Marley also traveled to the Ethiopian capitol Addis Ababa where he visited several sites significant to His Majesty’s life and ancient Ethiopian history.
That same year Bob Marley and The Wailers’ tours of Europe and America were highlighted on their second critically acclaimed live album “Babylon By Bus”. In 1978 Bob and The Wailers also toured Japan, Australia and New Zealand, where the indigenous Maori people greeted them with a traditional welcoming ceremony typically reserved for visiting dignitaries.
Bob released “Survival”, his ninth album for Island, in the summer of 1979. From opening track’s clarion call to “Wake Up and Live” to the concluding “Ambush In The Night”, his definitive statement on the 1976 assassination attempt, “Survival” is a brilliant, politically progressive work championing pan-African solidarity. “Survival” also included “Africa Unite” and “Zimbabwe”, the latter an anthem for the soon-to-be liberated colony of Rhodesia. In April 1980 Bob and the Wailers performed at Zimbabwe’s official Independence Ceremony at the invitation of the country’s newly elected president Robert Mugabe. This profound honor reconfirmed the importance of Bob Marley and the Wailers’ throughout the African Diaspora and reggae’s significance as a unifying and liberating force.
Unbeknownst to the band, the Zimbabwe Independence concert was solely for a select group of media and political dignitaries. As Bob Marley and The Wailers started their set, pandemonium ensued among the enormous crowd gathered outside the entrance to the Rufaro Sports Stadium: the gates broke apart as Zimbabweans surged forward to see the musicians who inspired their liberation struggle. Clouds of teargas drifted into the stadium; the Wailers were overcome with fumes and left the stage. The I-Threes returned to their hotel but Bob Marley went back onstage and performed “Zimbabwe”. The following evening, Bob Marley and the Wailers returned to Rufaro Stadium and put on a free show for a crowd of nearly 80,000.
The final album to be released in Bob’s lifetime, “Uprising”, helped to fulfill another career objective. Bob had openly courted an African American listenership throughout his career and he made a profound connection to that demographic with “Could You Be Loved”, which incorporated a danceable reggae-disco fusion. “Could You Be Loved” reached no. 6 and no. 56 respectively on Billboard’s Club Play Singles and Black Singles charts. “Uprising” also included contemplative odes to Bob’s Rastafarian beliefs, “Zion Train” and “Forever Loving Jah”, and the deeply moving “Redemption Song” a stark, acoustic declaration of enduring truths and profoundly personal musings; Angelique Kidjo, the Clash’s Joe Strummer, Sinead O’Connor and Rihanna are but four of the dozens of artists who have recorded versions of “Redemption Song”.
Bob Marley and The Wailers embarked on a major European tour in the spring of 1980, breaking attendance records in several countries. In Milan, Italy, they performed before 100,000 people, the largest audience of their career. The US leg of the “Uprising” tour commenced in Boston on September 16 at the JB Hynes Auditorium. On September 19 Bob and the Wailers rolled into New York City for two consecutive sold out nights at Madison Square Garden as part of a bill featuring New York based rapper Kurtis Blow and Lionel Richie and the Commodores. The tour went onto the Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh, Pa. where Bob delivered the final set of his illustrious career on September 23, 1980.
The Pittsburgh show took place just two days after Marley learned that the cancer that had taken root in his big toe in 1977, following a football injury, had metastasized and spread throughout his body. Bob courageously fought the disease for eight months, even traveling to Germany to undergo treatment at the clinic of Dr. Josef Issels. At the beginning of May 1981, Bob left Germany to return to Jamaica but he did not complete that journey; he succumbed to his cancer in a Miami hospital on May 11, 1981.
The Bob Marley biography doesn’t end there. In April 1981 Bob Marley was awarded Jamaica’s third highest honor, the Order of Merit, for his outstanding contribution to his country’s culture. Ten days after Bob Marley’s death, he was given a state funeral as the Honorable Robert Nesta Marley O.M. by the Jamaican government, attended by Prime Minister Edward Seaga and the Opposition Party Leader Michael Manley. Hundreds of thousands of spectators lined the streets to observe the procession of cars that wound its way from Kingston to Bob’s final resting place, a mausoleum in his birthplace of Nine Miles. The Bob Marley and the Wailers legend lives on, however, and thirty years after Bob Marley’s death, his music remains as vital as ever in its celebration of life and embodiment of struggle.
The Bob Marley influence upon various populations remains unparalleled, irrespective of race, color or creed. Bob Marley’s revolutionary yet unifying music, challenging colonialism, racism, “fighting against ism and scism” as he sang in “One Drop”, has had profound effects even in country’s where English isn’t widely spoken. In August 2008, two musicians from the war scarred countries of Serbia and Croatia (formerly provinces within Yugoslavia) unveiled a statue of Bob Marley during a rock music festival in Serbia; the monument’s inscription read “Bob Marley Fighter For Freedom Armed With A Guitar”. “Marley was chosen because he promoted peace and tolerance in his music,” said Mirko Miljus, an organizer of the event.
In Koh Lipe, Thailand, Bob Marley’s February 6th birthday is celebrated for three days with a cultural festival. In New Zealand, his life and music are now essential components of Waitangi Day (February 6) observances honoring the unifying treaty signed between the country’s European settlers and its indigenous Maori population. When Bob visited New Zealand for a concert at Auckland’s Western Springs Stadium on April 6, 1979, the Maori greeted him with a traditional song and dance ceremony reserved for visiting dignitaries. Marley’s former manager, the late Don Taylor, referred to the Maori welcoming ritual as “one of my most treasured memories of the impact of Bob and reggae music on the world”.
On April 17, 1980 when the former British colony of Rhodesia was liberated and officially renamed Zimbabwe and the Union Jack replaced with the red, gold, green and black Zimbabwean flag, it is said that the first words officially spoken in the new nation were “ladies and gentlemen, Bob Marley and the Wailers”. For the Zimbabwean freedom fighters that listened to Bob Marley, inspiration and strength were drawn from his empowering lyrics. Marley penned a tribute to their efforts, “Zimbabwe”, which was included on the most overtly political album of his career, 1979’s “Survival” and he was invited to headline their official liberation celebrations. Zimbabwean police used tear gas to control the crowds that stampeded through the gates of Harare’s Rufaro Stadium to get a glimpse of Marley onstage. As several members of Marley’s entourage fled for cover, he returned to the stage to perform “Zimbabwe”, his words resounding with a greater urgency amidst the ensuing chaos: “to divide and rule could only tear us apart, in everyman chest, there beats a heart/so soon we’ll find out who is the real revolutionaries and I don’t want my people to be tricked by mercenaries.” “There was smoke everywhere, our eyes filled with tears so we ran off,” recalls Marcia Griffiths, who sang backup for Marley, alongside Rita Marley and Judy Mowatt, as the I-Threes. “When Bob saw us the next day he smiled and said now we know who are the real revolutionaries.”
A generation later a group of political refugees from Sierra Leone living in Guinean concentration camps and traumatized by years of bloody warfare in their country, found through the music of Bob Marley, inspiration to form their own band and write and record their own songs. The Refugee All Stars won international acclaim for their 2006 debut “Living Like A Refugee” and their 2010 album “Rise and Shine”, each utilizing a blend of reggae, Sierra Leone’s Islamic rooted bubu music and West African goombay.
Further evidence of Bob Marley’s ongoing influence arrived on October 13, 2010 when Victor Zamora, one of 33 Chilean miners rescued after being trapped in a San Jose mine for 69 days, asked to hear Marley’s “Buffalo Soldier” shortly after his release. Recorded in 1980 and posthumously released in 1983, “Buffalo Soldier” recounts the atrocities of the slave trade. Like so many of Bob Marley’s songs, it highlights the importance of relating past occurrences to present-day identities: “if you know your history then you will know where you are coming from, then you wouldn’t have to ask me, who the hell do I think I am?”
As 2011 draws to a close, Occupy Wall St. styled protests spread around the world, challenging social and economic inequality, as well as corporate greed and its influence upon government policy. The uncompromising sentiments expressed on Bob’s “Get Up Stand Up”, lyrics that are repeatedly chanted at these demonstrations, seem to have directly inspired the protesters’ dissenting stance: “Some people think a great God will come down from the sky, take away everything and make everybody feel high/but if you know what life is worth, you will look for yours on earth and now we see the light, we’re gonna stand up for our rights!”