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Biography: Rasta Man Vibration: The Life and Work of Bob Marley Reggae Superstar and Devoted Rastafarian.

Bob Marley Life Story


Full Name: Robert Nesta Marley
Born: February 6, 1945
Died: May 11, 1981
Married to: Rita Marley
Children: 9 (4 with Rita) A few of the most well known Bob Marley offspring are Cedella Marley named after his mother, Stephen Marley, Stephanie Marley, Jah Nesta Marley, Karen Marley, Kimani Marley, Julian Marley, David also known as “Ziggy Marley”, and Damion “Junior Gong” Marley the product of an extra marital affair with former Miss Universe Cindy Breakspeare.

Bob Marley's Father

Robert Nesta Marley more popularly known as Bob Marley was the biological product of a mixed race relationship. His teenage mother at the time Cedella, became involved with a white middle aged man by the name of Norval Marley. Norval was of an English upper class background. This fact placed a strain on the relationship between the two from the very beginning. While Cedella was pregnant with Bob she and Norval were engaged to be married, however the engagement was called off only one week prior to the wedding. The society at the time was much less receptive of a mixed race relationship especially between two people from such different social and economic backgrounds.

Move to the Concrete Jungle of Kingston

Bob was born in the humble community of Nine Miles in St. Ann. Not many opportunities existed in such rural areas at the time. This prompted young Cedella to later move to the concrete jungle of Kingston’s inner city. The jungle of choice was Trench Town which would later feature prominently in Bob’s songs. His mother moved in search of a better life but Trench Town proved futile in providing the Marley family with any economic gain. The area in which they now resided lacked several things such as access to basic amenities and had a host of other oppressive socio-economic conditions present, conversely the community proved to be rich as a source of inspiration for Bob’s music which later would prove to be infused with themes of inequality, injustice, oppression, poverty, the need for peace and basic human rights.

Conversion to the Rastafarian Faith

In the mid part of his career he gravitated under the influence of his wife Rita towards Rastafari. When His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie had visited Jamaica in April of 1966, Rita claimed to have had an experience which convinced her that this man Selassie was her true god. When Bob became serious about the faith he is said to have approach a reputable member of the faith Mortimer Planno. Throughout his career Marley’s music would reflect various themes from lessons he had learned since his conversion to the Rastafarian faith. A closer examination of his lyrics reveals that Marley was no doubt influenced by another powerful prophet in the form of Marcus Mosiah Garvey. Songs such as “Africa Unite” and messages such as “emancipate yourselves from mental slavery reflects the philosophy and thought of Garvey. The unification of black people, a return to Africa the motherland and building black pride and self esteem all appealed to Marley who as a ghetto youth knew that this message was relevant and right.


He was a man obsessed with privacy and devoted much of his lifetime protecting this mystique. It is alleged that not even some of his closes allies, family and associates were every able to get a full picture of Marley the man. His unfathomable easy going attitude towards life added to his allure as a Rasta Man. Rising like the phoenix from the ashes he was able to rise out his humble Trench Town beginnings to become a superstar. His lyrics were able to transcend languages, cultures and nationalities.

According to Timothy White, through Marley’s story telling style most times employing Jamaican proverbs “he seemed to embody the magical qualities of Anancy…he became a larger than life figure for his people, in the same way Anancy evolved in the minds of character in folklore into a crucial symbol of courage embodying the concept that a supposedly lowly creature can outwit his formidable adversaries.”

Musical Career

The Early Years

Marley’s musical career can be said to have gone through many stages, taking him from a Ska artist through to Reggae, all of this taking place between the 1970’s and 80’s. Bob at this time was best known for working with the reggae group “The Wailers”. The Wailers was comprised of three of the most talented artists in reggae history, namely Marley, Bunny “Wailer” Livingstone and Peter Tosh. Bob Marley and the Wailers as they later became known (as more emphasis was placed on Marley), songs were not only filled with pulsating beats and mesmerizing lyrics but had undercurrent themes of rebellion as seen in such songs as “Them Belly Full But We Hungry” a direct social commentary on the Socialist regime of the Michael Manley led People’s National Party (PNP) warning of the potency of socially excluded ghetto youth in creating a chaotic and volatile socio-political climate in Jamaica. Marley was very familiar with this subject as Trench Town during the 1970’s and 80’s like most other inner city areas experienced an upsurge in violence fuelled by youth lacking opportunities and feeling oppressed by legitimate authoritative forces of the state such as the police force.

The group eventually split after eleven successful records in 1975 with members eventually enjoying relative levels of success as solo artists. Out of this group though the most internationally acclaimed would turn out to be Bob Marley. Many persons attribute this international fame to Marley’s association with the well known and influential producer by the name of Chris Blackwell.

Chris Blackwell of Island Records/Tuff Gong Records

Blackwell in 1962 made a move to England with his small scale label, purchasing master tapes produced in Kingston Jamaica and then proceeded to release them in Britain on Island the parent label and other lesser known ones such as Black Swan and Jump Up. Some of the more recognizable reggae artists that got their start on this label were Jimmy Cliff, Don Drummond and the Skatalites, Blues Buster and Marley himself. Chris Blackwell is said to have packaged Marley for export to an international audience. Being well connected and prominent in some circles, many say it is this power combined with Bob’s raw talent that made a super star.

Marley was signed to Island/Tuff Gong Records in 1972 and in 1975 produced the international hit “No Woman No Cry”, to date one of Marley’s most far reaching and well known songs. However with this international acclaim came criticisms that Marley’s music, especially songs along the line of the all encompassing “One Love”, was being “toned down” for a wider reception at the cost of the message.

Sir Coxsone Dodd at the infamous Studio One

Prior to working with Blackwell, most of Marley’s early efforts were produced by the late Sir Coxsone Dodd at the infamous Studio One. Financial pressure however placed a strain on this relationship.

In the book on Marley’s life entitled “Catch a Fire” he is quoted as having expressed a desire to his mother Cedella that he would like to have more creative input and ownership of recording rights. However the major labels of the day such as Studio One dominated the local music seen and so young artist without much capital had no choice but to comply with certain terns and adhere to their contracts.

Lee "Scratch" Perry

This strain led to yet another collaboration with a producer by the name of Lee “Scratch” Perry. This time the strain on the relationship came in the form of what is now termed as intellectual property rights with Bob wanting more control over his music financially as well as creatively.

Regardless of the splits Bob was able to remain friends with all three producers up until the time of his death. It must be noted that Marley’s work was responsible for the international cultural acceptance of reggae to a large extent, although it is widely believed that he lost a large portion of his Jamaican audience with this move to the international stage at the time. Today Marley is one of Jamaica’s cultural icons and is used as a symbol of hope, peace and love.

Almost Fatal Attack

Bob Marley had managed to purchase a house that was formerly considered out of the ownership league of Blacks that would probably only occupy the servants quarters. In 1975 he was able to pay over the twenty thousand dollar price tag on the property. For the house to be owned by a Rastafarian at the time was of not only historical but social significance. Rastafarianism, although very fashionable and popular today, was not so accepted in Marley’s time in Jamaica in particular. Being a Rastafarian came with negative labels, images of uneducated, ignorant, Black Heart oriented people. Marley’s locks proved to be appealing to an international audience who saw Rastafarianism as unique and mystical.

Why Bob Marley was Shot

In 1976, two days preceding a scheduled free concert entitled “Smile Jamaica” that Marley and the then Jamaican PM Michael Manley had organized in the run up to the general election. Bob Marley, wife Rita and manager Don Taylor, were shot at their 56 Hope Road home, located just across the road from the what is now the Bob Marley Museum. Marley received minor injuries in the arm and chest. Don Taylor received most of the bullets in his legs and torso as he accidentally walked in the line of fire. He was registered in serious condition initially but was treated and sent home, and ended up having a full recovery from the wounds. Rita also recovered of the head wound she received that night.

It is generally believed that this shooting was politically motivated. Jamaican politics being in a very volatile state at the time, especially when close to elections time as it was then.

The concert was seen as a conscious move by the reggae artist in support of the then prime minister of Jamaica, Michael Manley. It is widely held that the attack was executed by fervent supporters of the opposition and highly conservative political party of Jamaica, the Jamaica Labour Party. However, there is little evidence to support this. Although there have been many rumors as to “who done it” the police never caught the gunmen. It is suggested that Bob speaks to detractors who accused him of running away from reality by leaving Jamaica, about the attack and states in a very poetic and biblically based (some of the lines can be found in Proverbs 25:24) philosophical way the reason for his flight from Jamaica in the song Running Away …

I’ve got to protect my life And I don’t want to live with no strife It is better to live on the housetop Than to live in a house full of confusion So I made my decision and I left you And now you’re coming to tell me I’m running away But it’s not true. I’m not running away. -- Excerpt from “Songs of Freedom”.

Later career

After the attack on his life at his Hope Road residence Bob Marley left Jamaica at the end of 1976, and went to England, where he recorded both Exodus and Kaya. He released "Africa Unite" on the Survival album in 1979, and was then invited to perform at the Zimbabwe Independence Day celebrations on April 17th 1980. He also performed at many other concerts spanning the length and breadth of the globe. Rastaman Vibration made big waves in the US charts on its release. The success got reggae and other reggae artists more exposure. Marley got more mileage a recognition for his peace efforts. “War” brought the message of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie loud and clear to the young generation

Bob Marley Dies/Cancer

There are many rumors surrounding Bob Marley’s death. It is rumored that Marley was a prime target of American intelligence agency the CIA for his anti-authority lyrics which were deemed a threat to social order because of the mostly revolutionary messages in them. However the medical reason surrounds a wound to Marley’s right big toe that would prove fatal in the end. The toe in question was injured during the very physically active Marley’s football matches. Marley initially did not take the injury seriously until he began to feel constant discomfort in the area of the same toe. After checks with physicians in July of 1977, Marley was diagnosed as having a form of skin cancer, malignant melanoma which had been present under his toenail. Doctors then suggested that the star amputate the toe in order to prevent the spread of the cancer. It is said that due to his Rastafarian belief Marley refused to undergo the amputation even in such a life threatening instance. A little known fact is that he did eventually undergo surgery in an attempt to expunge some of the cancer cells. The cancer spread to his brain, lungs and stomach. While on tour in the summer of 1980 trying to break into the United States market, he collapsed jogging in New York'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. He wanted to spend his final days in Jamaica after “Coming in From the Cold” 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 Miami, Florida on May 11, 1981. His state funeral in Jamaica was a dignified affair with combined elements of Ethiopian Orthodoxy and Rastafarianism. The Honourable Edward Seaga eulogized Marley after which his body was transported to his final resting place a crypt in Nine Miles, near his birthplace in the parish of St. Ann in Jamaica. Many people in alluding to the phenomenal turn out of people at his funeral use it as a point of reference when speaking about events where there is such a large turn out, “it big like Bob Marley funeral”.

The Legacy

Bob Marley's music and legend have gone from strength to strength in the years since his early death at age 36. Bob Marley's influence in music continues to produce a huge stream of revenue for his estate, which now has businesses in several spheres such as fashion, recording and branding of products and services to name a few. Today almost anywhere in the world when the name Bob Marley is mentioned it is recognized by old and young. He remains enormously popular and well known all over the world, and particularly so in Africa after having written many songs speaking to the issues of mental slavery, poverty, and other social injustices that have scourged and continue to negatively impact the continent . Bob Marley and the Wailers music is acknowledged and loved in places that they or he never even step foot such as the Philippines, Brazil, Nigeria, Ghana, and Taiwan among others.

Life after Death

In January 2005, numerous reports surfaced both in Jamaican and international media indicating the Marley’s wife Rita Marley had intended to exhume the Marley’s remains from its resting place in Nine Miles, Portland to Shashamane, Ethiopia, which she later cited as being in accordance with Marley’s wishes. In supporting her actions Mrs. Marley said in a statement simply stated that "Bob's whole life is about Africa, it is not Jamaica." There is as lot of resistance to this proposal in Jamaica, with members of the Rastafarian community as well as the general public expressing displeasure with the announcement. The birthday celebrations for what would have been his 60th birthday in February 2005 were celebrated in Ethiopia for the first time, having previously always been held in Jamaica. Marley received many awards in addition to international recognition during his life time and also posthumously. Below are just a few of them.

• Rolling Stone’s Band of the Year in 1976. • The Peace Medal of the Third World in 1978 from the United Nations • The Order of Merit (Jamaica’s highest honour) in 1981

Posthumous Awards and Honours: • Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993. • Album of the Century by Time Magazine for Exodus in 1999. • Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2001and also the Grammy’s Lifetime Achievement Award in the same year.

Contributed by: John
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