Once called “the first Third World superstar”, Bob Marley was a visionary who introduced the world to the sounds of Jamaican reggae music. Charismatic, controversial and a gifted songwriter and lyricist, Marley and his group, The Wailers, left a legacy of music that has far outlived his brief time on the planet, and continues to flourish throughout the world.
Robert Nesta Marley was born in 1945, in Saint Ann Parish, Jamaica. His father was a white European and his mother, a black Jamaican, and throughout his youth, he would suffer from varying degrees of racial prejudice – from both sides. Perhaps as an escape from these injustices, he turned to music in his early teens. He befriended guitarist, Peter Tosh, and percussionist Neville “Bunny” Livingston during this period and after a few failed attempts on his own to break into the music business, the three of them would form “The Wailers” with Marley in the role of lead singer.
The Wailers did much better commercially than Bob on his own and they managed to become very popular around Jamaica thanks to their hit, “Simmer Down.” Despite their rising success, the group temporarily disbanded and Marley left Jamaica for a short time to live with his mother and new wife in Delaware. Upon his return to Jamaica, he became a part of the Rastafari religion, and replaced his clean-cut image with dreadlocks and the spiritual use of marijuana. Teaming up with his old Wailer mates once again, they picked up where they had left off and redefined the reggae sound with hits like “400 Years,” “Small Axe” and “Soul Rebel,” which focused far more on social awareness, faith and rebellion. Marley was finding his true calling and emerging as a prominent voice for the causes he held dear.
It would take a contract with Island Records for Bob Marley and the Wailers to introduce reggae to the rest of the world. Their first experience in a state-of-the-art recording studio would lead to Catch a Fire, their first album that was marketed internationally and featured the hit song, “Stir It Up.” Their second release, Burnin’, featured another hit, the politically charged “Get Up, Stand Up” as well as “I Shot The Sheriff” which brought them additional recognition thanks to a remake by British guitar legend Eric Clapton, who had a number-one hit in America with the song.
In 1975, they released Natty Dread then watched as “No Woman, No Cry” rose up the UK record charts. It mattered little that his childhood chums would leave to pursue solo careers at this point – Bob Marley had established himself as a Rasta Prophet and visionary artist. When Exodus was released in 1977, it was hailed as a masterpiece and stayed on the British charts for an astounding 56 weeks, thanks to hits like “Waiting in Vain” and “Jamming.” It seemed that Marley was an unstoppable force in the world of reggae music. He would travel to Africa for the first time in 1978 to visit his spiritual roots in Ethiopia and return to Jamaica for a performance in the “One Love Peace Concert” aimed at bringing peace to a country that was bitterly divided.
In 1980, his career was peaking. He was invited by the Government of Zimbabwe to play at their independence ceremony and was playing sold out shows across the globe. The future looked bright for Bob Marley. Sadly, it would take a disastrous turn when he collapsed while jogging one day in Central Park. He was diagnosed with a malignant tumor on his toe, the result of an old football injury. He managed to play a couple of memorable shows at Madison Square Garden but his health was declining rapidly. A mere eight months later, he would lose his battle with cancer and pass away in a Miami Hospital.
And despite his death, his legend has only managed to grow stronger. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994 and his album, Exodus, was voted the greatest album of the 20th century by Time magazine. His songs of love, rebellion, and social injustice are timeless classics that still enjoy regular airplay around the world and seem to resonate with future generations as well as they did when they were first released. He was the voice of the oppressed, the segregated, the discriminated. And the hope he gave, along with his innovations that helped popularize reggae music around the globe, have made him an everlasting icon in the music world.
If you were touched by the songs of Bob Marley, we hope you’ll take a moment to share your thoughts in our comments section, as we tip our hats to this beloved and timeless artist.