Marley, Bob (1945-1981), Jamaican singer, guitarist, and songwriter, a pioneer of Jamaican reggae music. Considered one of the greatest artists of the genre, he was the first Jamaican reggae performer to achieve significant international stardom.
He was born Robert Nesta Marley in Rhoden Hall, Saint Ann Parish, Jamaica . Marley was learning the welding trade in Kingston when he formed his first harmony group, the Rudeboys, in 1961. The group later became known as the Wailers.
The Wailers included vocalists Bunny Livingston and Peter Tosh, both of whom later embarked on successful solo careers.The group’s early recordings were in a style called ska, a hybrid of New Orleans rhythm and blues and Jamaican mento. Mento was the first of the reggae styles. (The term reggae is commonly used as a collective designation for a number of successive forms of Jamaican pop music “ska, rock steady, poppa-top, and reggae. ) By the late 1960s, influences from United States rhythm and blues, Jamaican folk rhythm, and dub (rhythmic, improvised verses) were synthesized into the rock steady and poppa-top styles, and Marley emerged as a rising talent in this new genre of Jamaican music.
In 1967 he converted from Christianity to Rastafarianism, a religion that has had a profound influence on reggae music. The Rastafarian movement of this period, among other beliefs, recognized Haile Selassie I, king of Ethiopia, as the living God; praised the spiritual effects of marijuana; and endorsed black racial superiority. Influenced by the Rastafarian movement, Marley’s music contains elements of spiritualism and mysticism. Some songs call for personal freedom through revolution, while others embrace carefree attitudes toward life or convey stories of love.Marley and the Wailers recorded Catch a Fire (1972), Burnin’ (1973), Natty Dread (1975), and Live (1975), among other albums.
During the 1970s, amid great political and economic turmoil in Jamaica, Marley cultivated a rebel image. An increasingly political figure, he survived a 1976 assassination attempt at his home in Jamaica. He subsequently went to Europe and experienced a new degree of popular success in England, Sweden, The Netherlands, and West Germany (now part of the united Federal Republic of Germany).Rastaman Vibration (1976) and a United States tour brought him unmatched success with American reggae fans, and his popularity was furthered with Exodus (1977), Babylon by Bus (1978), Kaya (1978), Uprising (1980), and reissues of earlier work.
During his lifetime, Marley’s music came to be closely associated with the movement toward black political independence, a movement prominent in several African and South American countries at the time. His music has remained highly popular, and for many it has continued to symbolize the hopes of the downtrodden for a better life outside urban slums.The clarity, conviction, and sincerity of Marley’s performances, and his unique, melodic style of songwriting, have influenced many pop-music artists, including songwriter Stevie Wonder and rock guitarist Eric Clapton. A national hero in Jamaica, Robert Nesta Marley was a singer and guitarist who took reggae music to an international level. A Rastafarian, he wrote lyrics that touched on oppression, poverty, and violence and held out hope that these problems would be overcome. His music came to be associated with black independence.Marley’s life was tied inextricably to the development of reggae music and the Rastafarian way of life. Marley was born on February 6, 1945 in the small village of Nine Miles, Jamaica.
His father was a captain in the British Army, and his mother was a Jamaican whose ancestors had been brought to the island as slaves. They split up when Marley was eight years old. Relocating with his mother to a slum on the outskirts of Kingston, he resisted Trench Town’s hooligans and bullies without getting into trouble himself, despite the poverty and violence around him.As a teenager, he worked as an electrical welder but soon found that his interest lay in music.
He sang in a church youth choir and later in a harmony group called the Rudeboys in 1961. By the time he was 18, Marley had joined musicians Bunny Livingstone, Peter Tosh, and Junior Braithwaite. After much discussion, the band settled on the name the Wailing Wailers. Their first hit, “Simmer Down,” was recorded in 1964 by a Kingston record producer. The song was a favorite in Jamaica and launched the band to local stardom. A string of hits followed, employing the fast rhythms of ska or the slow and lilting beat of rock steady.The Wailing Wailers’ singing style combined U.
S. soul with Jamaican language rhythm. The subject matter of their songs was homelessness, unemployment, and youth violence “issues that were close to home for many urban Jamaicans. Dishonest studios and management problems led to the Wailing Wailers’ breakup two years later.
Although Marley had just gotten married (he eventually had four children with Rita, who would later become one of his back-up singers), he joined his mother in Delaware and got a job working in a Chrysler car factory.After he saved enough money to record a new album, he returned to Jamaica in 1967. Marley, Livingstone, and Tosh regrouped as the Wailers and did some recording but were ultimately unhappy with their producers. In 1969, they signed on with a new producer, one who was pioneering the fusion of ska and rock steady into a new style called reggae. Lee “Scratch” Perry helped meld the Wailers’ sound with a heavily accented hesitation beat, increased instrumentals, and promoted Marley and the Wailers back to the forefront as the principal reggae band in Jamaica.It was in 1968 that Marley converted from Christianity to Rastafarianism, a Jamaican-based religion that teaches that blacks in the West (symbolized as Babylon) will eventually be redeemed and taken home to Africa (called Zion).
Central to their redemption is a belief in the deity of late Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie. Rastafarians embrace a doctrine of pacifism, asceticism, and the ritualistic use of marijuana. Adherents spoke out against poverty, oppression, and inequality. These revolutionary themes found their way into Marley’s lyrics, and the Rastafarian element made the music uniquely his.Powerful words and phrases like “oppression,” “freedom,” and “African” repeated in refrains helped make his songs more persuasive.
From 1969 to 1973, the Wailers produced some of their best music, but they were not known outside of Jamaica. In 1973, the renamed Bob Marley and the Wailers signed with London-based Island Records. The album Catch a Fire was heavily promoted in Europe and the United States, and reggae caught on with many listeners. Tosh and Livingstone left the group in 1974 for solo careers, but Marley carried on with new musicians.
Natty Dread (1974), Rastaman Vibration (1976), Exodus (1977), and Uprising (1980) were some of his most acclaimed and popular albums. His most famous songs included “No Woman, No Cry,” “I Shot the Sheriff,” and “Redemption Song,” the latter containing the lines, “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery None but ourselves can free our minds. ” Marley became known internationally “he was somewhat of a hero in Africa, where his lyrics promoting African unity were embraced by heads of state and rebel groups alike. The African delegation to the United Nations awarded Marley the International Peace Medal in 1978.Zimbabwean prime minister Robert Mugabe invited the Wailers to attend Zimbabwe’s independence celebrations in 1980; Marley was overwhelmed by the honor. Later that year, Marley collapsed on stage, apparently from exhaustion. Doctors diagnosed him with brain, lung, and stomach cancer, and Marley died on May 11, 1981. Tens of thousands of fans attended his funeral, mourning a man who had both entertained and moved them.
Two months after his death, he was awarded the Order of Merit, the nation’s third-highest honor, for his contribution to Jamaican culture.