BOB MARLEY Biography - Writers


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Robert Nesta Marley (February 6, 1945 - May 11, 1981), better known as Bob Marley, was a singer, guitarist and songwriter from the ghettos of Jamaica. He is most likely the best known reggae musician of all times, famous for popularising the genre outside of Jamaica. Much of his work deals with the struggles of the impoverished and/or powerless.


He was the husband of Rita Anderson Marley (who was one of the I Threes , who acted as the Wailers’ back up singers after they became a global act). She had 4 of his 9 children, including David Ziggy Marley and Stephen Marley who continue their father’s musical legacy in their band The Melody Makers.


An excellent source of information about Bob Marley the man, his religion, his music, his business and his movement is found in Timothy White’s book Catch a Fire.




Bob Marley was born in Jamaica to a black mother, Cedella Booker, and a white father, Norval Marley, (who never really knew his son because of the white upper classes’ disdain for Norval’s affair with Marley’s mother), on February 6, 1945, making him a mixed race person. Marley started 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", the backbone of which were two other celebrated reggae musicians, Bunny Livingston and Peter Tosh. Livingstone and Tosh then left the group and became successful solo artists. Much of his early work was produced by Coxsone Dodd at Studio One. He split from Dodd because of financial pressure, and in the early 70s he produced what is, by many, believed to be his best work work with Lee Perry, although the pair split acrimoniously over the assignment of recording rights, they did work together again in London and remained friends until Marley’s death.


Marley’s work 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 stable of successful and diverse artists including, amongst others, such nascent luminaries of the music scene as Genesis, John Martyn and Nick Drake.


Marley was well known for his devotion to Rastafarianism. He served as a de facto missionary for the faith (his actions and lyrics suggest that this was intentional) and brought it to global attention. He preached brotherhood and peace for all of mankind. Towards the end of his life he was also baptised into the Ethiopian Orthodox Church with the name Berhane Selassie.


in 1976 Marley was shot inside his home. It is generally believed that his shooting was politically motivated, Jamaican politics being somewhat violent at the time. He had been scheduled to perform at a concert that was seen as being in support of the progressive prime minister of Jamaica, Michael Manley, and had been receiving death threats after it was announced he was going to perform there. It is widely held that he was shot by a supporter of the conservative political party of Jamaica, the Jamaica Labour Party. However, there is little evidence to support this, and Marley devotees emphasize that no one knows who was responsible. Rita Marley was also shot in the head at the time, but recovered.


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 did not 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 Rastas believe that doctors are samfai, confidence men who cheat the gullible by pretending to have the power of witchcraft. Marley based this refusal on his Rastafarian beliefs, saying, “Rasta no abide amputation. I and I don’t allow a mon ta be dismantled.” [Catch a Fire, Timothy White] He did have surgery to try to excise the cancer cells.


The cancer spread to his brain and his lungs. In the summer of 1980, he collapsed during a series of shows at Madison Square Garden. He sought help, mostly from the controversial cancer specialist Josef Issels , but it was too late. 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 and had to land in Miami. He passed away at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Miami, Florida on May 11, 1981. His near-royal funeral in Jamaica combined elements of Ethiopian Orthodoxy and Rastafarianism. He is buried in a crypt at Nine Miles, near his birthplace. His early death brought him a larger than life status similar to that enjoyed by Elvis Presley and Jim Morrison. His image and music continue to produce a huge stream of revenue for his estate. He was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001.