Having been considered as the worldwide icon of reggae, Bob Marley was the pioneer for introducing and bringing Jamaican music to worldwide acclaim. He had given a prominent contribution to bring reggae to be the center of attention of all people in the world. Therefore, it is undeniable to address him as one of the most distinguished artists of all time. Not only was he an extraordinary musician, but also a Rasta prophet, poetic songwriter, and revolutionary singer who was greatly respected. All of that came from his brilliantly created and intriguing tunes which deal with humanity, spirituality, brotherhood and peace for all mankind. Although he is no longer in this world, his music undoubtedly still remains eternal and echoes all over the universe.
Bob was born as Robert Nesta Marley on February 6, 1945 in a small village called Nine Miles, Saint Ann, Jamaica. He is the son of a middle-aged British Naval Officer named Norval Sinclair Marley and a native Jamaican teenager, Cedella Booker. Shortly after his birth, his father left the family to Kingston. However, he still gave financial support and occasionally returned to visit his son. Since it was difficult to earn a living, her mother decided to look for an employment in the big city. She therefore took 14-years-old Bob along, moving to Trenchtown which located in the west of Kingston. It was in this city that he became friends with Neville "Bunny" Livingstone. Sharing the same interest in music, these two young boys took a class held by Joe Higgs, a famous Jamaican singer. During this time, both of them met and befriended a classmate named Peter MacIntosh or better known as Peter Tosh.
As Bob's desire to become a musician grew deeper, he started to search for any opportunities to achieve his goal. With the help from a young yet successful singer named Jimmy Cliff, he was able to meet Leslie Kong, Beverley's label owner, and auditioned for him in 1962. He then recorded two singles entitled 'Judge Not' and 'One More Cup of Coffee' which unfortunately turned out for poor result. Nevertheless, this failure did not make him dispirited. Together with Bunny and Peter, he formed a vocal group called Wailing Wailers in 1963. Previously being named 'The Teenagers,' the group added 3 more personnel namely Junior Braithwaite, Beverly Kelso, and Cherry Smith. Under the guidance of Joe Higgs and a drummer named Alvin Patterson, the group began their recording for the Studio One label owned by Clement "Coxsone" Dodd. Their first single, 'Simmer Down,' surprisingly became a huge hit in Jamaica.
By January 1964, 'Simmer Down' had reached number one at JBC Radio Chart and sold well over 80,000 copies. This success was followed by their other tracks, such as 'It Hurts to be Alone' and 'Rule the Roadie.' Nevertheless, the unity of the group was threatened for Junior, Beverly, and Cherry quit in 1965. Bob then took the lead vocal position so that the group could still do the recording sessions for the label. Meanwhile, he finally married his long-term girlfriend, Rita Anderson on February 10, 1966, before leaving Wailing Wailers to pursue a better finance in America. He returned to Jamaica by November and reunited with Bunny as well as Peter. They afterwards agreed to rename the group as The Wailers and left Studio One label to establish their own. Using his savings, Bob established Wail 'N' Soul 'M Records while recording a single entitled 'Bend Down Low' for his group. To their relief, the single was fairly successful, becoming one of the local hits. On the other hand, the record company could not run well so that it had to be closed in 1967.
1966 also marked Bob's first acquaintance with Rastafarianism through his wife who had converted to this religious movement during his leaving. Rastafarianism basically possesses a doctrine on selections from the Bible with many members bolstering nonviolence actions and the rejection of materialism. Its followers regard Ethiopia as the Promised Land and Haile Selassie as a messiah. Embracing the teachings, Bob, along with two other members of The Wailers, began to grow dreadlocks and apply marijuana, which are the symbols of Rastafarianism. The group also embedded the faith in their music, making it as the solid foundation of their compositions. With this new awareness, The Wailers tried to find their way back to the top. In 1969, they met Lee 'Scratch' Perry who then offered them to record under his label. Backed up by Perry's house band, The Upsetters, the group produced a series of singles, such as 'My Cup,' 'Duppy Conqueror,' 'Soul Almighty,' 'Small Axe,' 'Soul Rebel,' and '400 Years.'
This collaboration of The Wailers and Perry proved to be such a brilliant idea. All the singles were marvelous tracks, containing powerful vocals and ingenious rhythms. Not only the songs became classic, they also defined the future direction of Jamaican music. This certainly led The Wailers to gain popularity throughout Caribbean. To their dismal, this success was tainted because Perry sold their materials to Trojan Records without their consent. As a result, their debut album, 'Soul Rebels' was released under Trojan in 1970. This automatically raised the conflict between Perry and the group, leading to the end of their relationship. In spite of this awful situation, The Wailers got a fresh air as Aston and Carlton Barret, the bassist and drummer of The Upsetters, eagerly joined them. With this new formation, the group went on by establishing their own label in 1971 called Tuff Gong, which was named after Bob's nickname.
The Wailers set their aim to enter the international market, but apparently it was a difficult task to accomplish. After an arduous period, the group was signed by Chris Blackwell of Island Records in 1972. Receiving a large amount of fund and the finest recording facilities, The Wailers was the first reggae group to get this kind of treatment. Their gratitude was shown through their first album under this particular records, 'Catch A Fire' (1973). It performed very well as it got huge praise from critics while being considered as one of the first genuine reggae albums. It also highlighted the group's career since the album was able to gain international recognition. Following this, the group resolved to embark their U.K. tour in 1973. When they returned to Jamaica, Bunny confirmed his absence on the next tour, so his position was temporarily replaced by Joe Higgs. The group, along with Joe, afterwards went to U.S. as they were scheduled to perform as the opening act of Sly and the Family Stone as well as Bruce Springsteen.
The Wailer's second album under Island entitled 'Burning' was launched in November 1973. In the meantime, the group added one more member named Earl Lindo. Having been released only six months after it predecessor, this album contained several tracks that already been put in the previous album as well as fresh new songs, like 'Get Up Stand Up' and 'I Shot the Sheriff.' The latter track afterwards was covered by Eric Clapton and surprisingly hit both U.K. and U.S. music charts, directing the group to earn worldwide acclaim along with popularity. Despite of this fabulous accomplishment, Bunny and Peter decided to leave the group with the reason to pursue a solo career. Shortly thereafter, Earl Lindo also quit to join Taj Mahal. However, this did not discourage Bob at all. He, together with Barret Brothers, quickly formed a new line-up by adding a trio of female backing vocalists, I-Threes, which consisted of Marcia Griffiths, Judy Mowatt, and his own wife, Rita. Bob once again changed the group's name, naming it Bob Marley and The Wailers.
Supported by two additional players, Al Anderson on guitar and Bernard 'Touter' Harvey on keyboards, the group released their next album entitled 'Natty Dread' by October 1974. To their delight, one of its tracks, 'No Woman, No Cry' became a worldwide hit, for the first time reaching U.K. Top 40 chart. In 1975, the group held their European tour, including two shows at London's Lyceum Ballroom. These performances were recorded as an album entitled 'Live!' and released in the same year. Replacing Al and Bernard with Junior Marvin and Tyrone Downie, Bob added another member named Alvin 'Secco' Patterson on percussion. By the following year, the group came up with their fifth album, 'Rastaman Vibration.' One of its tracks entitled 'War' had the lyrics which were taken from Haile Selassie's speech, spreading this emperor's message to young generation. The album appeared to trigger the growth of reggae in U.S., thus brought the genre to be a new fever in the country. Bob Marley and The Wailers, therefore, was named The Band of The Year by Rolling Stones magazine.
In December 1976, Bob planned to hold a free concert during 'Smile Jamaica' Festival at Kingston's National Heroes Park. His intention was to bring a peaceful message against the ghetto wars happening in Trenchtown at that time. Two days before the event, a horrible incident occurred as a number of gunmen infiltrated his house at Hope Road in Kingston. They shot him along with Rita and their manager, Don Taylor. Fortunately, no one was killed even though they were all seriously injured. Bob received wounds on his upper body and arm while Rita on her head. This assassination attempt raised an assumption that it was done due to a political motivation as he had given his support for the prime minister of Jamaica, Michael Manley. Many believed that Edward Seaga, the Opposition leader, was the man behind this incident. In spite of his condition, Bob and his group kept sticking to the plan, performing at the festival on December 5.
Leaving Jamaica after the show, Bob and The Wailers headed to U.K. in 1977. It was there that they recorded their materials for their upcoming album, 'Exodus.' When it finally released in June, the response was extremely great. The album quickly secured position in U.K. charts, remaining there for 56 straight weeks while also hitting U.S. charts. Furthermore, it became number one in some countries with its hit singles, like 'Jamming,' 'Waiting in Vain,' and 'One Love/People Get Ready.' This success enhanced the group's status to be an international superstar. They afterwards started to carry out their European tour. During their shows in London, Bob experienced an injury on his right toe while playing football. The doctor later proclaimed that it was a malignant melanoma and advised him to have his toe amputated. However, he refused, insisting it would be against Rastafarian belief, so he only underwent a surgery in Miami to remove the cancer cells.
In 1978, another album entitled 'Kaya' was launched. The album scored tremendous attainment as it strove to the 4th rank of U.K. charts after a week of its release. Notwithstanding with the success, 'Kaya' raised a controversy since it expressed the group's deference to marijuana. As a follower of Rastafarianism, the group believed that marijuana was the mean to bring them closer to Jah (God). In the meantime, the group returned to Jamaica in April in order to perform at One Love Peace Concert in Kingston. In this occasion, Bob was successful in getting the two political rivals, Manley and Seaga, came together to the stage and made a symbolic peacemaking gesture. This marked Bob's campaigns on world peace that he had applied for many years. It ultimately led him to receive the Peace Medal of the Third World from the United Nations in June. He then took his time to pay a first visit to Ethiopia and Kenya. By the end of the year, Bob and The Wailers released their second live album, 'Babylon By Bus.'
Their next album, 'Survival,' came up in 1979 and surprisingly was a huge success in Africa. It was because Bob had composed tunes based on the subject of pan-African unity as seen in the album's tracks entitled 'Zimbabwe' and 'Africa Unite.' Not only Africa was its concern, but also humanity as well. It encouraged every human being to resist suppression in all of its insidious forms. This brought the group to be invited by the government of Zimbabwe to participate at the country's Independence Day ceremony on April 17, 1980. It was later followed by the release of another album entitled 'Uprising.' Meanwhile, the cancer, which previously considered to have been completely removed, had grown within Bob's body. It eventually spread to his vital organs, making him repeatedly collapsed. During their tour in New York, he once again fainted, thus was rushed to hospital. The doctors found out that the cancer had come to his brain and predicted Bob's life would last less than a month.
Looking upon Bob's condition, the group intended to cancel their tour, but he insisted to continue performing on stage. He then went to Pittsburgh where he made an unforgettable concert at Stanley Theater in September 1980. It apparently was his last performance since he was severely ill to accomplish the remaining tour schedules. He then was baptized at Kingston's Ethiopian Orthodox Church with the name Berhane Selassie. By the end of the year, he was taken to Bavaria to be treated under cancer specialist, Dr. Josef Issels. After spending several months, Dr. Issels confessed that there was no more he could do to overcome the illness. Previously being honored to receive Jamaica's Order of Merit, Bob Marley finally passed away on May 11, 1981 in Miami's Cedars of Lebanon Hospital. He left his beloved wife, Rita and their nine children. Thousands of people attending his funeral in Jamaica, including Jamaican Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition. His body then was buried in a mausoleum at Nine Miles.
Three years after Bob's death, a compilation album was launched with the title 'Legend.' The album was a best seller, reaching top position as well as spending 12 weeks on U.K. album charts. In February 1990, his birthday was declared as a national holiday in Jamaica. His name eventually was inducted to Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in January 1994. Seven years later, the Recording Academy bestowed Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award on him. In January 2005, Rita announced that she planned to rebury Bob's remains in Shashamane, Ethiopia. "Bob's whole life is about Africa," she claimed. "It is not Jamaica." And there it was the life of a musician whose legacy in reggae music will continue to pass on many other artists of the genre.