Bob Marley Short Biography
February 6, 1945-May 11, 1981
Born – St. Ann Parish, Kingston Jamaica. He died in Miami, Florida, on May 11, 1981 en route back to Jamaica.
Early Life in Jamaica
Born on February 6, 1945, in St. Ann Parish, Jamaica, Bob Marley helped introduce reggae music to the world and remains one of the genre’s 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 St. Ann Parish, in the rural village known as Nine Miles.
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.
Founding The Wailers
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 apart 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 began in Jamaica in 1930s and drew its beliefs from many sources, including Jamaican nationalist Marcus Garvey, the Old Testament, and their Ethiopian African heritage and culture.For a time in the late 1960s, Marley worked with pop singer Johnny Nash.
Nash scored a worldwide hit with Marley’s song “Stir It Up.” The Wailers also worked with producer Lee Perry during this era; some of their successful songs together were “Trench Town Rock,” “Soul Rebel” and “Four Hundred Years.”The Wailers added two new members in 1970: bassist Aston “Family Man” Barrett and his brother, drummer Carlton “Carlie” Barrett. The following year, Marley worked on a movie soundtrack in Sweden with Johnny Nash.
The Big Breakthrough
The Wailers got their big break in 1972 when they landed a contract with Island Records, founded 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, performing as an opening act for both Bruce Springsteen and Sly & the Family Stone. That same year, the group released their second full album, Burnin’, featuring the hit song “I Shot the Sheriff.” Rock legend Eric Clapton released a cover of the song in 1974, and it became a No. 1 hit in the United States.Before releasing 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. Natty Dread reflected some of the political tensions in Jamaica between the People’s National Party and the Jamaica Labour Party. Violence sometimes erupted due to these conflicts. “Rebel Music (3 o’clock Road Block)” was inspired by Marley’s own experience of being stopped by army members late one night prior to the 1972 national elections, and “Revolution” was interpreted by many as Marley’s endorsement for the PNP.
For their next tour, the Wailers performed with I-Threes, a female group whose members included Marcia Griffiths, Judy Mowatt and Marley’s wife, Rita. Now called Bob Marley & The Wailers, the group toured extensively and helped increase reggae’s popularity abroad. In Britain in 1975, they scored their first Top 40 hit with “No Woman, No Cry.”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 Vibration in 1976. One track stands out as an expression of his devotion to his faith and his interest in political change: “War.” The song’s lyrics were taken from a speech by Haile Selassie, the 20th 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 another hit his wife, Rita, in the head. Fortunately, the Marleys were not severely injured, but manager Don Taylor was not as fortunate. Shot five times, Taylor had to undergo surgery to save his life. Despite the attack and after much deliberation, Marley still played at the show. The motivation behind the attack was never uncovered, and Marley left Jamaica for England the day after the concert.
Dec 4, 2016 – It’s 40 years since would-be assassins tried to kill Bob Marley, the most famous reggae artist of all time. Nancy Burke, who was at the singer’s house in Kingston, Jamaica, as the shootings took place, recalls what happened.
During the 1970s, Marley led the way in the Caribbean island as it became the reggae capital of the world. Burke, who lived next door to him, was the girlfriend of his art designer and became part of his incrowd.
“I love the music, I love his lyrics, I love the beat, I love the band,” she says. “So it was a great privilege to be there, backstage, on the bus, going to shows.”
Marley may have been a potent symbol of the country’s musical success, but 1970s Jamaica was an impoverished and divided nation, with violent gangs fighting for control over the poorest neighborhoods.
The left-wing Prime Minister Michael Manley was a polarising figure and political tensions and violence were rife, especially when there were elections on the horizon.
In late 1976, a general election was due to be held. Marley had previously backed Manley, but this time the singer wanted to distance himself from the government.
To try to help calm passions, Marley suggested holding a free outdoor concert in Kingston in December. But when the prime minister publicly endorsed the idea, and even moved the date of the vote to coincide with the event, Marley was left looking like a government stooge.
Burke had been away in London, chaperoning one of Marley’s girlfriends, Cindy Breakspeare, at the Miss World contest. They arrived back on the island on the afternoon of 3 December 1976. After showering and changing, Burke went to see Marley at home.
“As I was walking towards the house, I just had this very quick moment of dread,” she says. “I just shuddered.”
She noticed the gate was closed, which was unusual. But inside the house, Burke recalls, everyone seemed relaxed. The band were taking a break from rehearsals.
Someone asked Burke to move her car to let Marley’s wife, Rita, take her own car out. As the front gates opened for Rita to leave, another car slipped in. Burke was by then in a back room chatting with some children and Marley’s lawyer, Diane Jobson.
“I had just entered that room and started talking to them about Miss World when this barrage of gunfire started, really close. I mean, right there,” Burke says.
“You could hear this gunfire going on and on and all these shots being fired. And it was so shocking because we couldn’t see it, but it was just a few feet away.
“I sank to my knees, I just didn’t know what to do. The light was on and we just thought they were going to come in and mow us down. It was scary, very scary. It was just a bedroom so there wasn’t anywhere to go. The kids went under the bed but I couldn’t.”
Three gunmen, who’d driven in as Rita was leaving, had rushed into the house, spraying the place with bullets. Marley and the musicians had dived for cover.
The shooters then sped off into the night, not pausing to survey the chaos they’d left behind.
“The silence after seemed like forever, which was even more terrifying,” Burke recalls.
“The next sound I heard was somebody calling out to Diane, saying: ‘Diane, Diane, come quick, Bob is shot.'”
Burke stayed in the bedroom with the children until the police arrived. “That was the first point I decided to step out of this room,” she says.
“While I was doing that I saw Bob walk out with the police and he was holding his left arm. It was fantastic to see him on foot – looking really, really angry.”
It had been a very lucky escape for everyone. Marley had been hit in the arm and chest. His manager, Don Taylor, had been hit in the groin. No-one else was seriously wounded.
Who’d carried out the shooting? Who’d sent the gunmen? Why hadn’t they finished off the job? These were all questions that hung in the air. The shooting remains shrouded in mystery and the gunmen were never found.
“I’ve heard rumours that they were taken care of, they’re not alive,” says Burke. “Somebody must know something. But it’s hard to know what the reality is.”
Two days later, an injured Marley turned up to play for more than 80,000 fans at the free open-air concert in Kingston. Burke was too scared to go.
“Nobody had been caught, nobody knew how or why. It was too frightening for me. I was too close it it the first time. I couldn’t face that so soon again.”
Marley spent the next two years in self-imposed exile in London, then touring, producing some of his best work. In his short life he released 11 albums, four of them live.
Burke kept close contact with Marley during the final years of his life, until his death from cancer in May 1981. He was just 36 years old.
“The last time I saw Bob before he died he had removed the locks, he had started to lose weight,” Burke says.
“He was very withdrawn, quite small. He was shrinking in front of us.
“When he died we were in New York when we heard. It was definitely one of the worst moments ever of my life. I still feel it’s part of my mission to make sure people won’t forget about Bob Marley. Which they won’t, he’s done that for himself.”
Living in London, England, Marley went to work on Exodus, which was released in 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 “Jamming,” and the entire album stayed on the U.K. charts for more than a year. Today, Exodus is considered to be one of the best albums ever made.
Marley had a health scare in 1977. He sought treatment in July of that year on a toe he had injured earlier that year. After discovering cancerous cells in his toe, doctors suggested amputation. Marley refused to have the surgery, however, because his religious beliefs prohibited amputation.
While working on Exodus, Marley and the Wailers recorded songs that were later released on the album Kaya (1978). With love as its theme, the work featured two hits: “Satisfy My Soul” and “Is This Love.” Also in 1978, Marley returned to Jamaica to perform his One Love Peace Concert, where he got Prime Minister Michael Manley of the PNP and opposition leader Edward Seaga of the JLP to shake hands on stage.
That same year, Marley made his first trip to Africa, and visited Kenya and Ethiopia—an especially important nation to him, as it’s viewed as the spiritual homeland of Rastafarians. Perhaps inspired by his travels, his next album, Survival (1979), was seen as a call for both greater unity and an end to oppression on the African continent. In 1980, Bob Marley & The Wailers played an official independence ceremony for the new nation of Zimbabwe.
A huge international success, Uprising (1980) featured “Could You Be Loved” and “Redemption Song.” Known for its poetic lyrics and social and political importance, the pared down, folk-sounding “Redemption Song” was an illustration of Marley’s talents as a songwriter. One line from the song reads: “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery; none but ourselves can free our minds.” A messenger with a beautiful soul.
On tour to support the album, Bob Marley & The Wailers traveled throughout Europe, playing in front of large crowds. The group also planned a series of concerts in the United States, but the group would play only two concerts—at Madison Square Garden in New York City—before Marley became ill. The cancer discovered earlier in his toe had spread throughout his body.
Death and Memorial
Traveling to Europe, Bob Marley underwent unconventional treatment by Dr. Josef Issels in Munich Germany, and was subsequently able to fight off the cancer for a while. Marley’s weight however had dropped to 77 pounds and after fighting the cancer without success for eight months, accepted his fate and left Germany to die in his homeland Jamaica. Sadly, Marley never made it back to Jamaica alive. After landing in Miami, Florida he was taken to Cedars of Lebanon Hospital (now University of Miami Hospital) where he passed away at 11:35 AM on May 11, 1981 at age 36. The spread of melanoma to his lungs and brain caused his death. His final words to his son Ziggy were “Money can’t buy life!”
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 send-off. More than 30,000 people paid their respects to the musician during his memorial service, held at the National Arena in Kingston, Jamaica. Rita Marley, Marcia Griffiths, Judy Mowatt sang and the Wailers performed at the ceremony.
Bob Marley achieved several legendary accomplishments during his lifetime, including serving as a world ambassador for reggae music, earning induction into the Rock and Rock Hall of Fame in 1994, and selling more than 20 million albums during his lifetime — making him the first international superstar to emerge from the so-called Third World.
Decades after his passing, Marley’s music remains widely acclaimed with album sales far beyond a 100 million copies. His musical legacy has also continued through his family and longtime bandmates; Rita continues to perform with the I-Threes, the Wailers and some of the Marley children. (Bob Marley reportedly fathered nine children, though reports vary.) Marley’s 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, later performing 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. Other Marley children are involved in related family businesses, including the Tuff Gong record label, founded by Marley in the mid-1960s.
Marley’s commitment to fighting oppression also continues through an organization that was established in his memory by the Marley family: The Bob Marley Foundation is devoted to helping people and organizations in developing nations.