The Hon. Robert Nesta Marley (February 6, 1945 – May 11, 1981) better known as Bob Marley, was a Jamaican singer, guitarist, and songwriter. He is the most widely known reggae musicians of all time, famous for popularising the genre outside of Jamaica. Much of his work deals with the struggles of the impoverished and/or powerless. He has been called the Charles Wesley of the Rastafari movement for the way in which he spread the faith through his music.
He was the husband of Rita Anderson Marley, who regularly performed with Bob Marley as a member of his back-up singers the I Threes. She had 4 of his 9 acknowledged children, including David Ziggy Marley and Stephen Marley who together continue their father's musical legacy in their band the Melody Makers. Another of his sons, Damian Marley (aka "Jr Gong"), has also started a career in music.
Political and religious convictions
Marley was well known for his devotion to the Rastafarian religion. It was his wife Rita who first inspired him in his faith, and he then received teachings from Mortimer Planner. 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. Through his music 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.
As a Rasta, Bob Marley was a great defender of cannabis which he used as a sacrament. On the cover of Catch a Fire he is seen smoking a large spliff (marijuana cigarette), and the spiritual use of cannabis is mentioned in many of his songs.
Marley was known to have connections with the Twelve Tribes of Israel sect of Rastafari, and he expressed this with a biblical quote about Joseph, son of Jacob on the album cover of Rastaman Vibration. The tribe of Joseph is Aquarius. Marley also makes many references to Judah and his tribe, in reference to Haile Selassie, God incarnate of the Rastafarians.
Bob Marley was born on February 6, 1945 in Nine Miles, Saint Ann Jamaica to Norval Marley, a Jamaican-born white plantation overseer of English descent, and Cedella Booker, a black teenager from the north country. Cedella and Norval were to be married on June 9th, 1944. Approximately a week before the wedding, however, Norval informed Cedella that his chronic hernia had begun to trouble him and as a result he would be changing jobs and moving to Kingston. Norval never really knew his son because of the white upper class' disdain for mixed race relationships.
Marley started his musical experimentation 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", which included two other celebrated reggae musicians, Bunny Livingstone and Peter Tosh. Livingstone and Tosh later left the group and went on to become successful solo artists.
Much of Marley's early work was produced by Coxsone Dodd at Studio One. That relationship later deteriorated due to financial pressure, and in the early 1970s he produced what is believed by many to be his finest work with Lee Perry. This pair also split apart, this time over the assignment of recording rights. They did work together again in London, though, 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 retinue of successful and diverse artists including Free, John Martyn and Nick Drake. Though many people believe that Blackwell interfered with what Marley wanted to do with his own music, others think that the knowledge this producer brought to the scene was critical in Marley's wish to bring reggae to the world. It was his 1975 hit No Woman, No Cry that first gained him fame on a wider level.
Shot in election violence
In 1976, just two days before a scheduled free concert that Marley and the then Jamaican PM Michael Manley had organized in the run up to the general election, Marley, his wife Rita, and manager Don Taylor, were shot inside the star's 56 Hope Road home. Marley received minor injuries in the arm and chest. Don Taylor took most of the bullets in his legs and torso as he accidentally walked in the line of fire. He was in a serious condition after he was rushed to the hospital, but fully recovered later. Rita also recovered from the shot to the head she received that night.
It is generally believed that the shooting was politically motivated, due to Jamaican politics being somewhat violent at the time, especially so close to election day. The concert was seen as being in support of the progressive prime minister of Jamaica, Michael Manley. It is widely held that he was shot by supporters of the conservative political party of Jamaica, the Jamaica Labour Party. However, there is little evidence to support this. Though the police never caught the gunmen, Marley devotees claimed to have later "caught up" with them on the streets of Kingston.
Bob Marley left Jamaica at the end of 1976, and went to England, where he recorded both Exodus and Kaya, and where he was famously arrested for possession of a joint of marijuana. He released "Africa Unite" on the Survival album in 1979, and was then invited to perform at the Zimbabwe Independence Day celebrations on April 17, 1980.
Rastaman Vibration made big waves in the US charts on its release. The success got reggae and Marley more mileage besides a recognition for his peace efforts. “War” brought the message of H.I.M. Haile Selassie loud and clear to the young generation. Stevie Wonder in the album Hotter than July paid a rich tribute to Bob Marley with the hit track Master Blaster (Jammin).
Diagnosis with cancer
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 would not completely 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.
Marley was advised to get his toe amputated, but he refused because of the Rastafarian belief that doctors are samfai, confidence men who cheat the gullible by pretending to have the power of witchcraft. He also was concerned about the impact the operation would have on his dancing; amputation would profoundly affect his career at a time when greater success was close at hand. Still, 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 was kept secret from the wider public.
Collapse and treatment
The cancer spread to his brain, his lungs and his stomach. While on tour in the summer of 1980, while trying to break into the US market, he collapsed jogging in NYC'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 that was 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.
A month before his death, he was awarded the Jamaican Order of Merit. He wanted to spend his final days in Jamaica 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 in Miami, Florida on May 11, 1981. Before his death he was baptised into the Coptic Orthodox Church. and took the name Berhane Selassie (meaning the Light of the Holy Trinity in Coptic). His funeral in Jamaica was a dignified affair with combined elements of Ethiopian Orthodoxy and Rastafarianism. He is buried in a crypt at Nine Miles, near his birthplace.