UPDATED: 9:10 a.m. ET, Feb. 6, 2021 —
Today, Bob Marley would have been 76 years of age.
In the 40 years since his untimely death, Marley still remains the most popular figure in reggae music. Succumbing to cancer at age 36 in 1981, Marley had become a global ambassador for the music he helped make famous.
Marley’s passing shook the reggae and music community to its core; yet, his legacy remains intact through his timeless music catalog and talented children.
Marley was born in the village of Nine Mile in Saint Ann Parish in Jamaica (also the birthplace of Marcus Garvey). Marley’s father was a white Jamaican man of English descent and his mother was a native of Jamaica. Discovering music as a teenager, Marley befriended Neville “Bunny” Livingston (aka Bunny Wailer) who shared his dreams of becoming a musician. Through singer Joe Higgs, the pair met Peter McIntosh (aka Peter Tosh) who also had similar ambitions. Recording his first songs in 1962, Marley and his friends would eventually be renamed The Wailers, after being discovered by a local record producer.
Marrying Rita Anderson (now Marley) in 1966, Marley and his bride made a sojourn to the United States to live near his mother in Wilmington, De. Marley soon teamed up with American singer Johnny Nash (“I Can See Clearly Now”) and nabbed a deal with CBS Records. Marley and the Wailers went on tour with Nash before their label deal went sour and the band ended up stranded in London in 1972. From there, Marley contacted Island Records’ founder Chris Blackwell and was advanced funds to record the hit album “Catch A Fire.”
Shortly after the release of their major-label debut, Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh went their separate ways for still undisclosed reasons. Marley continued on recording under the Wailers name, employing his wife Rita on vocals and formed an entirely new backing band. Bob Marley and The Wailers released thirteen albums between 1965 and 1983, with the last, “Confrontation,” released posthumously.
Bob Marley converted to Rastafarianism in the 1960s, enraptured by both the Pan-African message of his hero Garvey and the story of Ethiopian regent and emperor Haile Selassie I, the latter revered as the messiah in Rastafarian culture. Marley’s music was first modeled after American pop and soul styles, becoming increasingly militant as he grew into his faith. His last studio outing with the Wailers, “Uprising,” is considered his most-religious work and spawned the hit song “Could You Be Loved.”
Marley had several children with various women. His oldest son, Ziggy, is an accomplished musician himself as the front man for his Melody Makers band with brothers Stephen and sisters Sharon and Cedella.
Marley’s youngest son, Damian “Junior Gong,” has enjoyed success as a “deejay” (dancehall rapper) and vocalist under the tutelage of older brother Stephen. Other members of the Marley clan have dabbled in music and have deep investments in their father’s legacy and image.
Marley’s hypnotic voice and poignant lyrics still resonate within the hearts and minds of reggae fans the world over. Marley has the distinction of being the most-universally loved reggae artists of all times, with some fans saying their only exposure to reggae music came by way of Bob Marley. While his children may have captured their father’s honeyed vocals and potency at times, there has never been an artist like Bob Marley since.
Happy Birthday to you, Bob Marley!