Robert Nesta “Bob” Marley (February 6, 1945 – May 11, 1981) was a Jamaican singer-songwriter and musician. He was the lead singer, songwriter and guitarist for the ska, rocksteady and reggae bands The Wailers (1964–1974) and Bob Marley & The Wailers (1974–1981). Marley remains the most widely known and revered performer of reggae music, and is credited for helping spread both Jamaican music and the Rastafari movement to a worldwide audience.
Marley’s best known hits include “I Shot the Sheriff”, “No Woman, No Cry”, “Could You Be Loved”, “Stir It Up”, “Jamming”, “Redemption Song”, “One Love” and, together with The Wailers, “Three Little Birds”, as well as the posthumous releases “Buffalo Soldier” and “Iron Lion Zion”. The compilation album, Legend (1984), released three years after his death, is reggae’s best-selling album, being 10 times Platinum (Diamond) in the U.S., and selling 20 million copies worldwide.
Early life and career Bob Marley was born in the small village of Nine Mile in Saint Ann Parish, Jamaica as Nesta Robert Marley. A Jamaican passport official would later swap his first and middle names. His father, Norval Sinclair Marley, was a caucasian-Jamaican of English descent, whose family came from Essex, England. Michael George Marley, cousin of Bob Marley, has speculated that the Marleys were of Syrian-Jewish descent, however, this is not conclusive. Norval was a captain in the Royal Marines, as well as a plantation overseer, when he married Cedella Booker, an Afro-Jamaican then 18 years old. Norval provided financial support for his wife and child, but seldom saw them, as he was often away on trips. In 1955, when Marley was 10 years old, his father died of a heart attack at age 60. Marley suffered racial prejudice as a youth, because of his mixed racial origins and faced questions about his own racial identity throughout his life. He once reflected:
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 nor 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.
Although Marley recognized his mixed ancestry, throughout his life and because of his beliefs, he self-identified as a black African. In songs such as “Babylon System”, and “Blackman Redemption”, Marley sings about the struggles of blacks and Africans against oppression from the West or “Babylon”. Marley became friends with Neville “Bunny” Livingston (later known as Bunny Wailer), with whom he started to play music. He left school at the age of 14 to make music with Joe Higgs, a local singer and devout Rastafari. It was at a jam session with Higgs and Livingston that Marley met Peter McIntosh (later known as Peter Tosh), who had similar musical ambitions. In 1962, Marley recorded his first two singles, “Judge Not” and “One Cup of Coffee”, with local music producer Leslie Kong. These songs, released on the Beverley’s label under the pseudonym of Bobby Martell, attracted little attention. The songs were later re-released on the box set, Songs of Freedom, a posthumous collection of Marley’s work.
In July 1977, Marley was found to have acral lentiginous melanoma, a form of malignant melanoma, in a wound reportedly picked up in a friendly football match After the album Uprising was released in May 1980 the band completed a major tour of Europe, where they played their biggest ever concert, to a hundred thousand people in Milan. After the tour Marley went to America, where he performed two shows at Madison Square Garden as part of the Uprising Tour. Shortly afterwards his illness deteriorated and he became very ill, the cancer had spread throughout his body. The rest of the tour was cancelled and Marley sought treatment at the Bavarian clinic of Josef Issels, where he received a controversial type of cancer therapy partly based on avoidance of certain foods, drinks and other substances. After fighting the cancer without success for eight months he boarded a plane for his home in Jamaica.
While flying home from Germany to Jamaica for his final days, Marley became ill, and landed in Miami for immediate medical attention. He died at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Miami on the morning of May 11, 1981, at the age of 36. The spread of melanoma to his lungs and brain caused his death. His final words to his son Ziggy were “Money can’t buy life.” Marley received a state funeral in Jamaica on May 21, 1981, which combined elements of Ethiopian Orthodoxy and Rastafari tradition. He was buried in a chapel near his birthplace with his Fender Stratocaster. A month before his death, he had also been awarded the Jamaican Order of Merit.
In 1994 Marley was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and in 1999 Time magazine chose Bob Marley & The Wailers’ Exodus as the greatest album of the 20th century. In 2001, he was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and a feature-length documentary about his life, Rebel Music, won various awards at the Grammys. With contributions from Rita, The Wailers, and Marley’s lovers and children, it also tells much of the story in his own words. In 2006, the State of New York renamed a portion of Church Avenue from Remsen Avenue to East 98th Street in the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn “Bob Marley Boulevard”.
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