Bob Marley died on this day in 1981 :(
Bob Marley was born on February 6, 1945, in St. Ann Parish, Jamaica. In 1963, Marley and his friends formed the Wailing Wailers.The Wailers got their big break in 1972 when they landed a contract with Island Records. Marley has sold more than 20 million records, making him the first international superstar to emerge from the so-called Third World. He died in Miami, Florida, on May 11, 1981.
Early Life in Jamaica
Singer, musician, songwriter. Born on February 6, 1945, in Jamaica. Bob Marley helped introduce reggae music to the world and remains one of its most beloved artists to this day. The son of a black teenage mother and much older, later absent white father, he spent his early years in the rural village known as Nine Miles in the parish of St. Ann.
One of his childhood friends in St. Ann was Neville “Bunny” O’Riley Livingston. Attending the same school, the two shared a love of music. Bunny inspired Bob to learn to play the guitar. Later Livingston’s father and Marley’s mother became involved, and they all lived together for a time in Kingston, according to Christopher John Farley’s Before the Legend: The Rise of Bob Marley.
Arriving in Kingston in the late 1950s, Marley lived in Trench Town, one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. He struggled in poverty, but he found inspiration in the music around him. Trench Town had a number of successful local performers and was considered the Motown of Jamaica. Sounds from the United States also drifted in over the radio and through jukeboxes. Marley liked such artists as Ray Charles, Elvis Presley, Fats Domino, and the Drifters.
Marley and Livingston devoted much of their time to music. Under the guidance of Joe Higgs, Marley worked on improving his singing abilities. He met another student of Higgs, Peter McIntosh (later Peter Tosh) who would play an important role in Marley’s career.
A local record producer, Leslie Kong, liked Marley’s vocals and had him record a few singles, the first of which was “Judge Not” released in 1962. While he did not fare well as a solo artist, Marley found some success joining forces with his friends. In 1963, Marley, Livingston, and McIntosh formed the Wailing Wailers. Their first single, “Simmer Down,” went to the top of the Jamaican charts in January 1964. By this time, the group also included Junior Braithwaite, Beverly Kelso, and Cherry Smith.
The group became quite popular in Jamaica, but they had difficulty making it financially. Braithewaite, Kelso, and Smith left the group. The remaining members drifted a part for a time. Marley went to the United States where his mother was now living. However, before he left, he married Rita Anderson on February 10, 1966.
After eight months, Marley returned to Jamaica. He reunited with Livingston and McIntosh to form the Wailers. Around this time, Marley was exploring his spiritual side and developing a growing interest in the Rastafarian movement. Both religious and political, the Rastafarian movement started in Jamaica in 1930s and drew its beliefs from many sources, including Jamaican-born black nationalist Marcus Garvey, the Old Testament, and their African heritage and culture.
For a time in the late 1960s, Marley worked with pop singer Johnny Nash. Nash scored a hit with Marley’s song, “Stir It Up,” around the world. The Wailers also worked with producer Lee Perry during this era and some of their successful songs together included “Trench Town Rock,” “Soul Rebel,” and “Four Hundred Years.”
The Wailers added two new members in 1970 — Aston “Family Man” Barrett on bass and his brother Carlton “Carlie” Barrett on drums. The next year, Marley spent time with Johnny Nash in Sweden to work on a movie soundtrack.
The Wailers got their big break in 1972 when they landed a contract with Island Records, which was started by Chris Blackwell. For the first time, the group hit the studios to record a full album. The result was the critically acclaimed Catch a Fire. To support the record, the Wailers toured Britain and the United States in 1973. They performed as an opening act for Bruce Springsteen and for Sly & the Family Stone. That same year, the Wailers released their next album, Burnin, which featured the song “I Shot the Sheriff.” Rock legend Eric Clapton released a cover of the song in 1974, which became a number one hit in the United States.
Before the release of their next album, 1975’s Natty Dread, two of the three original Wailers left the group. McIntosh and Livingston decided to pursue solo careers as Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer respectively. The new album reflected some of the political tensions in Jamaica between the People’s National Party (PNP) and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). Violence sometimes erupted because of these conflicts. “Rebel Music (3 O’clock Road Block)” was inspired by Marley’s own experience of being stopped by the army late one night before the 1972 national elections. Furthermore, the song “Revolution” was interpreted by some as Marley’s endorsement for the PNP.
For their next tour, the remaining group was enhanced by the addition of I-Threes, a group of female vocalists was comprised of Marley’s wife Rita, Marcia Griffiths, and Judy Mowatt. Now called Bob Marley & the Wailers, the group toured extensively and helped increase reggae’s popularity abroad. In Britain, they scored their first top 40 hit with “No Woman No Cry” in 1975.
Already a much-admired star in his native Jamaica, Marley was on his way to becoming an international music icon. He made the U.S. music charts with the album Rastaman Vibrationin 1976. One track stands out as an expression of his devotion to his faith and his interest in political change. The lyrics of “War” were taken from a speech by Haile Selassie, the twentieth-century Ethiopian emperor who is seen as a type of a spiritual leader in the Rastafarian movement. A battle cry for freedom from oppression, the song discusses a new Africa, one without the racial hierarchy enforced by colonial rule.
Politics and Assassination Attempt
Back in Jamaica, Marley continued to be seen as a supporter of the People’s National Party. And his influence in his native land was seen as a threat to the PNP’s rivals. This may have led to the assassination attempt on Marley in 1976. A group of gunmen attacked Marley and the Wailers while they were rehearsing on the night of December 3, 1976, two days before a planned concert in Kingston’s National Heroes Park. One bullet struck Marley in the sternum and the bicep and his wife Rita was hit in the head by another bullet. Fortunately, the Marleys were not severely injured, but manager Don Taylor was not as lucky. He was shot five times and underwent surgery to save his life. Despite the attack, Marley still played at the show after much deliberation. The motivation behind the attack was never uncovered, and Marley fled the country the day after the concert.
Living in London, Marley went to work on Exodus (1977). The title track draws an analogy between the biblical story of Moses and the Israelites leaving exile and his own situation. The song also discusses returning to Africa. The concept of Africans and descendents of Africans repatriating their homeland can be linked to the work of Marcus Garvey. Released as a single, “Exodus” was a hit in Britain as were “Waiting in Vain” and “Jammin.” The entire album stayed on the charts there for more than a year and is considered to be one of the best albums ever made.
During 1977, Marley had a health scare. He sought treatment in July on a toe he had injured earlier that year. Doctors discovered cancerous cells in his toe, and suggested amputation. Marley refused to have the surgery, saying his religious beliefs prohibited amputation.
At the same time as making Exodus, Marley and the Wailers recorded the songs that were released on another album, Kaya (1978). With love as its theme, the recording featured two hits “Satisfy My Soul” and “Is This Love.” That same year, Marley returned to Jamaica to play the One Love Peace Concert and got Prime Minister Michael Manley of the PNP and opposition leader Edward Seaga of the JLP to shake hands on stage.
Also in 1978, Marley made his first trip to Africa and visited Kenya and Ethiopia. Ethiopia was especially important to him as the place is viewed as the spiritual homeland of Rastafarians. Perhaps inspired by his travels, his next album Survival (1979) was seen as a call for greater unity on the African continent and the end of oppression there. Bob Marley & The Wailers even played in official independence ceremony for the new nation of Zimbabwe in 1980.
A huge international success, Uprising(1980) featured “Could You Be Loved” and “Redemption Song.” The pared down folk-sounding “Redemption Song” was an illustration of Marley’s talents as a songwriter, crafting poetic lyrics with social and political importance. The line “emancipate yourselves from mental slavery none but ourselves can free our minds” is just one example of his artistry.
On tour to support the album, Bob Marley & The Wailers traveled throughout Europe, playing to large crowds. The group also planned a series of concerts in the United States, but the tour soon fell apart. In New York City, they played two concerts at Madison Square Garden before Marley became ill. It was discovered that the earlier cancer discovered in his toe had spread throughout his body.
Death and Memorial
Traveling to Europe, Bob Marley underwent unconventional treatment in Germany. He was able to fight off the cancer for months. But as it became clear that he did not have much longer to live, Marley tried to return to his beloved Jamaica one last time. He was not able to finish the journey, dying in Miami, Florida, on May 11, 1981.
Shortly before his death, Marley had received the Order of Merit from the Jamaican government. He had also been awarded the Medal of Peace from the United Nations in 1980. Adored by the people of Jamaica, Marley was given a hero’s sendoff. More than 30,000 people paid their respects to him while his body was lying in state at the National Arena. As a part of his memorial service, his wife Rita, Marcia Griffiths, and Judy Mowatt sang and the Wailers played.
During his lifetime, Marley served as a world ambassador for reggae music. He sold more than 20 million records, making him the first international superstar to emerge from the so-called Third World. In 1994, Marley was inducted into the Rock and Rock Hall of Fame.
Marley’s music still remains popular, more than 25 years after his passing. And his musical legacy is being continued by his widow and some of his children. Rita continues to perform with the I-Threes, the Wailers, and the Marley children. Bob Marley fathered at least nine children (reports vary). Sons David “Ziggy” and Stephen and daughters Cedella and Sharon (Rita’s daughter from a previous relationship who was adopted by Bob) played for years as Ziggy Marley & the Melody Makers and later as the Melody Makers. Ziggy and Stephen have also had solo successes. Sons Damian “Gong Jr.” Ky-Mani, and Julian are also talented recording artists. Some of the other Marley children are involved in related family businesses, such as the Tuff Gong record label, which Marley started in the mid-1960s.
Bob Marley’s commitment to fighting oppression is also being carried on by an organization established in his memory. Created by Rita and the Marley family, the Bob Marley Foundation helps people and organizations in the developing world.
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