Photo: Daniel Alvarado Silvera / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)
Full name: Robert Nesta Marley
Born: February 6, 1945
Born Place: Nine Mile, Jamaica
Died: May 11, 1981
Cause of death: Melanoma (skin cancer)
Death Place: University of Miami Hospital, Miami, Florida, United States
Spouse: Rita Anderson (m. 1966)
Robert “Bob” Nesta Marley, OM (6 February 1945 – 11 May 1981) was a Jamaican singer, songwriter and musician. Considered one of the pioneers of reggae, his musical career was marked by fusing elements of reggae, ska, and rocksteady, as well as his distinctive vocal and songwriting style. Marley’s contributions to music increased the visibility of Jamaican music worldwide, and made him a global figure in popular culture for over a decade. Over the course of his career Marley became known as a Rastafari icon, and he infused his music with a sense of spirituality. He is also considered a global symbol of Jamaican music and culture and identity, and was controversial in his outspoken support for the legalization of marijuana, while he also advocated for Pan-Africanism.
Born in Nine Mile, British Jamaica, Marley began his professional musical career in 1963, after forming Bob Marley and the Wailers. The group released its debut studio album The Wailing Wailers in 1965, which contained the single “One Love/People Get Ready”; the song was popular worldwide, and established the group as a rising figure in reggae. The Wailers subsequently released eleven further studio albums; while initially employing louder instrumentation and singing, the group began engaging in rhythmic-based song construction in the late 1960s and early 1970s, which coincided with the singer’s conversion to Rastafarianism. During this period Marley relocated to London, and the group typified their musical shift with the release of the album The Best of The Wailers (1971).
The group attained international success after the release of the albums Catch a Fire and Burnin’ (both 1973), and forged a reputation as touring artists. Following the disbandment of the Wailers a year later, Marley went on to release his solo material under the band’s name. His debut studio album Natty Dread (1974) received positive reception, as did its follow-up Rastaman Vibration (1976). A few months after the album’s release Marley survived an assassination attempt at his home in Jamaica, which prompted him to permanently relocate to London. During his time in London he recorded the album Exodus (1977); it incorporated elements of blues, soul, and British rock, enjoyed widespread commercial and critical success.
In 1977, Marley was diagnosed with acral lentiginous melanoma; he died as a result of the illness in 1981. His fans around the world expressed their grief, and he received a state funeral in Jamaica. The greatest hits album Legend was released in 1984, and became the best-selling reggae album of all time. Marley also ranks as one of the best-selling music artists of all time, with estimated sales of more than 75 million records worldwide. He was posthumously honored by Jamaica soon after his death with a designated Order of Merit by his nation. In 1994, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Rolling Stone ranked him No. 11 on its list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.
EARLY LIFE AND CAREER
Bob Marley was born on 6 February 1945 at the farm of his maternal grandfather in Nine Mile, Saint Ann Parish, Jamaica, to Norval Sinclair Marley and Cedella Malcolm. Norval Marley was a white Jamaican originally from Sussex, whose family claimed to have Syrian Jewish origins. Norval claimed to have been a captain in the Royal Marines; at the time of his marriage to Cedella Malcolm, an Afro-Jamaican then 18 years old, he was employed as a plantation overseer. Bob Marley’s full name is Robert Nesta Marley, though some sources give his birth name as Nesta Robert Marley, with a story that when Marley was still a boy a Jamaican passport official reversed his first and middle names because Nesta sounded like a girl’s name. Norval provided financial support for his wife and child but seldom saw them as he was often away. Bob Marley attended Stepney Primary and Junior High School which serves the catchment area of Saint Ann. In 1955, when Bob Marley was 10 years old, his father died of a heart attack at the age of 70. Marley’s mother went on later to marry Edward Booker, a civil servant from the United States, giving Marley two half-brothers: Richard and Anthony.
Bob Marley and Neville Livingston (later known as Bunny Wailer) had been childhood friends in Nine Mile. They had started to play music together while at Stepney Primary and Junior High School. Marley left Nine Mile with his mother when he was 12 and moved to Trenchtown, Kingston. She and Thadeus Livingston (Bunny Wailer’s father) had a daughter together whom they named Claudette Pearl, who was a younger sister to both Bob and Bunny. Now that Marley and Livingston were living together in the same house in Trenchtown, their musical explorations deepened to include the latest R&B from United States radio stations whose broadcasts reached Jamaica, and the new ska music. The move to Trenchtown was proving to be fortuitous, and Marley soon found himself in a vocal group with Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh, Beverley Kelso and Junior Braithwaite. Joe Higgs, who was part of the successful vocal act Higgs and Wilson, resided on 3rd St., and his singing partner Roy Wilson had been raised by the grandmother of Junior Braithwaite. Higgs and Wilson would rehearse at the back of the houses between 2nd and 3rd Streets, and soon, Marley (now residing on 2nd St.), Junior Braithwaite and the others were congregating around this successful duo. Marley and the others did not play any instruments at this time, and were more interested in being a vocal harmony group. Higgs was glad to help them develop their vocal harmonies, although more importantly, he had started to teach Marley how to play guitar—thereby creating the bedrock that would later allow Marley to construct some of the biggest-selling reggae songs in the history of the genre.
ILLNESS AND DEATH
In July 1977, Marley was found to have a type of malignant melanoma under the nail of a toe. Contrary to urban legend, this lesion was not primarily caused by an injury during a football match that year but was instead a symptom of already-existing cancer. Marley turned down his doctors’ advice to have his toe amputated (which would have hindered his performing career), citing his religious beliefs, and instead, the nail and nail bed were removed and a skin graft was taken from his thigh to cover the area. Despite his illness, he continued touring and was in the process of scheduling a world tour in 1980.
The album Uprising was released in May 1980. The band completed a major tour of Europe, where it played its biggest concert to 100,000 people in Milan. After the tour, Marley went to the United States, where he performed two shows at Madison Square Garden in New York City as part of the Uprising Tour.
Marley’s last concert occurred at the Stanley Theater (now called The Benedum Center For The Performing Arts) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on 23 September 1980. Just two days earlier he had collapsed during a jogging tour in Central Park and was brought to the hospital where he learned that his cancer had spread to his brain.
The only known photographs from the show were featured in Kevin Macdonald’s documentary film Marley.
Shortly afterward, Marley’s health deteriorated as his cancer had spread throughout his body. The rest of the tour was canceled and Marley sought treatment at the Bavarian clinic of Josef Issels, where he received an alternative cancer treatment called Issels treatment partly based on avoidance of certain foods, drinks, and other substances. After eight months of effectively failing to treat his advancing cancer, Marley boarded a plane for his home in Jamaica.
While Marley was flying home from Germany to Jamaica, his vital functions worsened. After landing in Miami, Florida, he was taken to the hospital for immediate medical attention. Marley died on 11 May 1981 at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Miami (now University of Miami Hospital), aged 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.”
Marley received a state funeral in Jamaica on 21 May 1981, which combined elements of Ethiopian Orthodoxy and Rastafari tradition. He was buried in a chapel near his birthplace with his guitar.
On 21 May 1981, Jamaican Prime Minister Edward Seaga delivered the final funeral eulogy to Marley, declaring:
His voice was an omnipresent cry in our electronic world. His sharp features, majestic looks, and prancing style a vivid etching on the landscape of our minds. Bob Marley was never seen. He was an experience which left an indelible imprint with each encounter. Such a man cannot be erased from the mind. He is part of the collective consciousness of the nation.
AWARDS AND HONOURS
- 1976: Rolling Stone Band of the Year
- June 1978: Awarded the Peace Medal of the Third World from the United Nations.
- February 1981: Awarded the Jamaican Order of Merit, then the nation’s third highest honour.
- March 1994: Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
- 1999: Album of the Century for Exodus by Time Magazine.
- February 2001: A star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
- February 2001: Awarded Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
- 2004: Rolling Stone ranked him No. 11 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.
- 2004: Among the first inductees into the UK Music Hall of Fame
- “One Love” named song of the millennium by BBC.
- Voted as one of the greatest lyricists of all time by a BBC poll.
- 2006: A blue plaque was unveiled at his first UK residence in Ridgmount Gardens, London, dedicated to him by the Nubian Jak Community Trust and supported by Her Majesty’s Foreign Office.
- 2010: Catch a Fire inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame (Reggae Album).
- The Wailing Wailers (1965)
- Soul Rebels (1970)
- Soul Revolution (1971)
- The Best of The Wailers (1971)
- Catch a Fire (1973)
- Burnin’ (1973)
- Natty Dread (1974)
- Rastaman Vibration (1976)
- Exodus (1977)
- Kaya (1978)
- Survival (1979)
- Uprising (1980)
- Confrontation (1983)
- Live! (1975)
- Babylon by Bus (1978)