Remembering the Life of Bob Marley
Bob Marley is one of those rare musical souls whose skill transcended social, economic and political barriers to enhance and move generations. I first heard a Bob Marley song when my math teacher, an older balding white man, put his music on during our math tests. It was admittedly strange listening to Buffalo Soldier while doing fractions, but something about that music made even taking a math test a fun and explorative experience. Everyone has their own unique experience with the music – and that is how you know there was something truly special about the man behind it.
Although Marley, like many great musicians, would leave this world too soon- he did more to further the causes of humanity he believed in than most who lived to twice his age.
“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.”
– Jamaican Prime Minister Edward Seaga at Bob Marley’s funeral.
When was Bob Marley Born?
Bob Marley was born on February 6, 1945, in St. Ann Parish, Jamaica to a black mother, Cedella Booker, and a white Englishman named Norval Sinclair Marley. Bob Marley’s full name was Robert Nesta Marley.
The Life of Bob Marley
Growing up in St. Ann Bob Marley would befriend another boy named Neville Livingston (aka Bunny Wailer). The two became fast friends, and when Bob’s father died, his mother took up with Neville’s father and the new family unit moved to Kingston – specifically Trenchtown.
While Neville and Bob started off being musically inclined and played together from a young age, the music they were introduced to while in Kingston was much broader and varied. They came into contact with more of the area’s top Reggae musicians as well as the Ska and R&B being broadcast from America into the city. Joe Higgs, part of a successful vocal duo, took young Marley and his friends under his wing and taught them both how to improve their singing and how to play guitar.
Although a producer, Leslie Kong, used Bob Marley’s vocals to record a few single tracks under a pseudonym, Marley’s real success came when he paired up with Neville and a number of other friends to form the Wailing Wailers. Producer Coxsone Dodd produced their single “Simmer Down” which quickly rocketed to the Jamaican #1 spot in 1964.
The group became popular but still struggled financially, and the members began to move on from the band. Marley moved to America and married Rita Anderson in 1966. He got a job at a Chrysler plant under the name Donald Marley.
The movements of the time affected Marley and upon his return to Jamaica he formally converted to Rastafarianism and began to grow out his hair. The Wailers also regrouped at this time to record a number of other hit songs including “Soul Rebel”, “Four Hundred Years” and “Trench Town Rock”.
The Wailers became the first Reggae band to record in a modern studio once they signed with island records in 1972. What resulted was the critically acclaimed album Catch a Fire. Shortly after that, the Wailers were opening on tour for Bruce Springsteen and Sly & the Family Stone. Around this time they recorded “I shot the Sheriff” and Eric Clapton’s cover of it hit #1 in the U.S.
The band broke up shortly after and Marley continued a semi-solo career as “Bob Marley & The Wailers” with a new supporting lineup of musicians backing him. When the new single No Woman, No Cry was released he earned international fame.
Politics in Jamaica had become heated and Bob Marley suffered an assault two days before a scheduled free concert he was set to perform at. Some believe this was politically motivated as it had appeared his concert was more in support of one of the factions. Gunmen had burst into a packed room of Bob’s friends and associates and opened fire. Marley took a round to the shoulder (that bullet would stay there for the rest of his life as they feared to remove it would affect his dexterity) and his manager and wife also suffered serious injuries. Amazingly no one was killed.
He left Jamaica in 1977 and moved to England. While in this self-imposed exile, he wrote and recorded both “Jamming” and “One Love”, and was also arrested in London for possession of Cannabis.
Bob Marley, How Did He Die?
Later in 1977, Marley was found to have a type of malignant melanoma. He refused amputation of the toe where the cancer was located and continued on with his recording and performance career. By 1980 the cancer had spread throughout his body and his health quickly began to fade. Marley’s last performance occurred at the Benedum Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Marley attempted to return home to Jamaica but the plane was forced to make an emergency stop in Miami when his vitals took a dive. Bob Marley’s death would occur there in Miami.
Marley received a state funeral with over 30,000 people in Jamaica on the 21st May, 1981 and was buried with his guitar.
Bob Marley left behind eleven children and perhaps triple that in hit songs.
He had received the Medal of Peace from the United Nations, was inducted into the Rock n’ Roll hall of fame in 1994, and received the Order of Merit from the Jamaican government. He was in many ways the first superstar to come out of the third-world.
To go deeper into the life and struggles of Bob Marley, read ‘Listen to Bob Marley: The Man, The Music, The Revolution’ with specially selected words from his daughter Cedella on Geeker!
The greatness of a man is not in how much wealth he acquires, but in his integrity and his ability to affect those around him positively.