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Nesta Robert Marley is to reggae as Michael Jackson is to pop. From humble beginnings, his influence – as an artist, performer, lyricist and global cultural icon to millions – is unparalleled. He was political and worked tirelessly for social change but also his music made us sing and dance and forget our troubles.
He embraced Rastafarianism in his early 20s and applied the doctrines of nonviolence and the rejection of materialism. He began to grow his famous dreadlocks and liked a joint – luckily, the symbols of Rastafarianism! He also embedded this faith into his music and through the late 60s and early 70s, Bob Marley and The Wailers saw success not only in Jamaica but around the world.
The Wailers broke up in 1974 to some conjecture but before they did, one of the last songs they recorded was No Woman, No Cry, taken from the studio album Natty Dread and it was one of his most famous and enduring songs. Some say there were creative differences and others say that that Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer simply preferred to work solo. Either way, Marley continued to release music as ‘Bob Marley and The Wailers’ and during the mid to late 70s (which included a two-year spell living in England), he released some stunning music, including the album Exodus which included the hit singles Exodus, Waiting in Vain, Jamming and One Love.
In July 1977, doctors found a malignant melanoma under a toenail. It’s widely believed that the injury was caused during a game of football but it’s an urban legend. The cancer in his body was already present and he declined the offer of amputation, citing his religious beliefs. During this time he wrote Redemption Song which amongst other themes, dealt with his own mortality. He continued to tour but his health grew worse. He sought treatment in Germany but the cancer had spread and flew home to Jamaica. After a layover on Florida, he was rushed to a hospital in Miami where he passed away on 11th May 1981. He was just 36 years old.
The music of Bob Marley transcends race, religion, colour or creed. It’s true that the commercialisation of his image has been used to sell everything from rolling machines to holiday packages but he remains the defining figure of Jamaican music. He essentially gave the world reggae and his messages continue to reverberate around the world more than 30 years after his death.
Bob Marley & The Wailers Trivia
His burial crypt at Nine Mile in Jamaica contains his Gibson Les Paul guitar, a football, a cannabis bud and a Bible.
His father was Norval Marley, a white British naval captain and his mother was a black teenage country girl called Cedella Booker.
Bob Marley drove a BMW on the basis that it stood for Bob Marley and The Wailers!
About the USA, Bob Marley once said ‘America is pure deviltry, dem tings dat go on there. Dem just work with force and brutality. Dem lock out the punk thing because they see someting happening. The oppressors bring another man to blind the youth to the truth, and dem call him-John Tra-vol-ta.’
Bob Marley’s last words to his son Ziggy were ‘money can’t buy you life’.
He was arrested for possession of marijuana and spent a month in prison where he met men who motivated him to write more politically-inspired lyrics.
As a child, Bob could read palms and on one occasion a reading left his mother quite shaken. As an adult on a trip back to Kingston, he was asked to read a woman’s palm and he replied ‘I’m not reading no more hand. I’m singing now’.
He was known by natives in Jamaica as ‘white boy’ due to his mixed race origins. He felt alienated but helped him to grow into the man he was.
After school he became an apprentice welder. He left, thank G-d, after a bit of metal flew into his eye and started to make serious music!
Gunmen broke into his house on December 3rd 1976 and shot him in a politically-motivated attack. Two days later he was back on stage for a free concert at National Heroes Park in Kingston.
Etymologists (people who study words, their meanings and their origins) cannot agree on a single definitive starting place for the word ‘reggae’. Some say it’s Jamaican patois, some say it’s a derivative word meaning ‘rags’ or ‘quarrel’ and some say its roots are Spanish!
Bob Marley & The Wailers – Where Are They Now?
After giving the world some of the most profound, beautifully written and meaningful reggae music ever committed to vinyl, he died in May 1981. He is buried at Nine Mile, the small village in Jamaica where he was born. RIP Bob, and thanks for the music.
After a successful solo career as well as being a promoter of Rastafari, he was murdered in his home during a robbery in September 1987. He was 42.
A three-time Grammy award winner for Best Reggae Album in 1991, 1995 and 1997, he lives on a farm in Saint Thomas in Jamaica and also in Kingston.
He left the band early on and lived in Chicago and Wisconsin until returning to Jamaica in 1984 to work on a reunion project with Bunny Wailer. He was murdered in June 1999 at the home of a fellow musician in Kingston.
She emigrated to the US in 1979 and is currently planning to write a book about her time in the band.
Born in Trench Town, she was one of the original backing singers and then when she left the band, she relocated to Florida in 1969 to work as a nurse. She died in 2008, aged 65.