Marley's career stretched back over twenty years. During that
time Marley's growing style encompassed every aspect in the rise
of Jamaican music, from ska to contemporary reggae. That growth
was well reflected in the maturity of the Wailers' music.
He was the husband of Rita Anderson Marley, who
regularly performed with Bob Marley as a member of his back-up
singers the I Threes. She had 4 of his 9 acknowledged children,
including David Ziggy Marley and Stephen Marley who together continue
their father's musical legacy in their band the Melody Makers.
Another of his sons, Damian Marley (aka "Jr Gong"),
has also started a career in music.
Marley was born on February 6, 1945 in Jamaica to Norval Marley,
a Jamaican-born white plantation overseer of English descent,
and Cedella Booker, a black teenager from the north country. Cedella
and Norval were to be married on June 9th, 1944. Approximately
a week before the wedding, however, Norval informed Cedella that
his chronic hernia had begun to trouble him and as a result he
would be changing jobs and moving to Kingston. Norval never really
knew his son because of the white upper class' disdain for mixed
started his musical experimentation in ska and gravitated towards
reggae as the music evolved, playing, teaching and singing for
a long period in the 1970s and 1980s. Marley is perhaps best-known
for work with his reggae group "The Wailers", which
included two other celebrated reggae musicians, Bunny Livingstone
and Peter Tosh. Livingstone and Tosh later left the group and
went on to become successful solo artists.
Much of Marley's
early work was produced by Coxsone Dodd at Studio One. That relationship
later deteriorated due to financial pressure, and in the early
1970s he produced what is believed by many to be his finest work
with Lee Perry. This pair also split apart, this time over the
assignment of recording rights. They did work together again in
London, though, and remained friends until Marley's death.
was largely responsible for the mainstream cultural acceptance
of reggae music outside of Jamaica. He signed to Chris Blackwell's
Island Records label in 1971, at the time a highly influential
and innovative label. Island Records boasted a retinue of successful
and diverse artists including Free, John Martyn and Nick Drake.
Though many people believe that Blackwell interfered with what
Marley wanted to do with his own music, others think that the
knowledge this producer brought to the scene was critical in Marley's
wish to bring reggae to the world. It was his 1975 hit No Woman,
No Cry that first gained him fame on a wider level.
In 1976, just
two days before a scheduled free concert that Marley and the then
Jamaican PM Michael Manley had organized in the run up to the
general election, Marley, his wife Rita and manager Don Taylor,
were shot inside the star's 56 Hope Road home. Marley received
minor injuries in the arm and chest. Don Taylor took most of the
bullets in his legs and torso as he accidentally walked in the
line of fire. He was registered in serious condition after he
was rushed to the hospital but fully recovered later. Rita also
recovered of the head wound she received that night. It is generally
believed that this shooting was politically motivated.
being somewhat violent at the time, especially when close to elections
time as it was then. The concert was seen as being in support
of the progressive prime minister of Jamaica, Michael Manley.
It is widely held that he was shot by supporters of the conservative
political party of Jamaica, the Jamaica Labour Party. However,
there is little evidence to support this. Though the police never
caught the gunmen, Marley devotees later "caught up"
with them on the streets of Kingston.
left Jamaica at the end of 1976, and went to England, where he
recorded both Exodus and Kaya, and where he was famously arrested
for possession of a joint of marijuana. He released "Africa
Unite" on the Survival album in 1979, and was then invited
to perform at the Zimbabwe Independence Day celebrations on April
made big waves in the US charts on its release. The success got
reggae and Marley more mileage besides a recognition for his peace
efforts. “War” brought the message of H.I.M. Haile
Selassie loud and clear to the young generation. Stevie Wonder
in the album Hotter than July paid a rich tribute to Bob Marley
with the hit track Master Blaster (Jammin).
In July 1977,
Marley was found to have a wound on his right big toe, which he
thought was from a soccer injury. The wound would not completely
heal, and his toenail later fell off during a soccer game. It
was then that the correct diagnosis was made. Marley actually
had a form of skin cancer, malignant melanoma, which grew under
his toenail. He was advised to get his toe amputated, but he refused
because of the Rastafarian belief that doctors are samfai, confidence
men who cheat the gullible by pretending to have the power of
He also was
concerned about the impact the operation would have on his dancing;
amputation would profoundly affect his career at a time when greater
success was close at hand. Still, Marley based this refusal on
his Rastafarian beliefs, saying, "Rasta no abide amputation.
I and I don't allow a mon ta be dismantled." He did have
surgery to try to excise the cancer cells. The cancer was kept
a secret from the wider public.
spread to his brain, his lungs and his stomach. While on tour
in the summer of 1980 trying to break into the US market, he collapsed
jogging in NYC's Central Park. This was after a series of shows
in England and at Madison Square Garden. The illness made him
unable to continue with the large tour planned. Marley sought
help, and decided to go to Munich in order to receive treatment
from controversial cancer specialist Josef Issels for several
months, but it was to no avail.
A month before
his death, he was awarded Jamaica's Order of Merit. He wanted
to spend his final days in Jamaica but he became too ill on the
flight home from Germany and had to land in Miami. He passed away
at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Miami, Florida on May 11, 1981.
Before his death he was baptised into the Coptic Orthodox Church.
and took the name Berhane Selassie (meaning the Light of the Holy
Trinity in Coptic). His funeral in Jamaica was a dignified affair
with combined elements of Ethiopian Orthodoxy and Rastafarianism.
He is buried in a crypt at Nine Miles, near his birthplace.
music and legend have gone from strength to strength in the years
since his early death and continue to produce a huge stream of
revenue for his estate, whilst also bringing him a nearly mythic
status in music history similar to that of Elvis Presley, John
Lennon, and Bob Dylan. He remains enormously popular and well
known all over the world, and particularly so in Africa. In 1993,
Marley was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
2005, it was reported that Rita Marley is planning to have her
late husband's remains exhumed and reburied in Shashamane, Ethiopia.
In announcing the decision to move Marley's remains to Ethiopia,
Rita Marley said: "Bob's whole life is about Africa, it is
not Jamaica." There is a great deal of resistance to this
proposal in Jamaica. The birthday celebrations for what would
have been his 60th birthday on February 6th 2005 were celebrated
in Shashamane for the first time, having previously always been
held in Jamaica.