Bob Marley, the man who put Reggae music in the public eye, is a well-known cultural figure who left an unmatched legacy.
Bob Marley and The Wailers have 12,090,791 monthly Spotify listeners (as of December 2022). Although he died in 1981, Marley continues to spread awareness to the world about Jamaica, reggae music, Rastafarianism, poverty and spirituality.
GIVING VOICE TO STRUGGLING JAMAICANS
Marley was the first Jamaican to be an international superstar. He gave a voice to struggling Jamaicans and brought the Jamaican experience to the public eye. His music frequently references the country’s politics, poverty, spirituality and traditions.
Born as Robert Nesta Marley in St. Ann Parish, Jamaica in 1945, he was the son of a 60-year-old white British naval captain and a 19-year-old black teenager.
Marley attended school in St. Ann Parish, Jamaica and met Neville O’Riley Livingston aka “Bunny” who inspired him to start playing the guitar. Marley left home at age 14 and went to Kingston, Jamaica, where he lived in Trench Town, one of the city’s poorest areas. Music gave him inspiration while living in poverty.
Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh formed the Wailers in 1963. They were successful and popular in Jamaica but struggled financially. The members disbanded for a little while and Marley decided to move back to the U.S. to be with his mother. Here he married Rita Anderson in 1966.
After eight months of living in the U.S., Marley moved back to Jamaica. During this time he was developing his spirituality in Rastafarianism. He got the Wailers back together and their career was ready to take off. The band had some successful songs, welcomed two new members and they signed a contract with Island Records in 1972. After this, the Wailers recorded a full studio album and were soon off on tour.
The Wailers toured the U.S. as an opener for Bruce Springsteen. Their name burst on the U.S. music charts as Eric Clapton covered their song “I Shot the Sheriff” in 1974 which became a No. 1 hit, much to Marley’s anger. In 1975, the band released the album “Natty Dread,” which contemplated the political situation in Jamaica during that time. There was political unrest between the People’s National Party and the Jamaica Labour Party and Marley was seen as a supporter of the People’s National Party. One of the songs on the album “Rebel Music (3 O’clock RoadBlock)” includes Marley’s reflection on his personal experience being stopped by the army at night before a national election.
After a successful first tour, the Wailers went on tour again. This time they performed with the I-Threes, a female musical group including Marley’s wife, Rita Marley. The I-Three’s are the most well-known female music group from Jamaica.
The Wailers emerged with their first top 40 hit in 1975 in Britain with “No Woman, No Cry.”Around this time, the Wailers made the U.S. music charts in 1976 with the album “Rastaman Vibration.” This album includes a track called “War” which includes lyrics from a speech by Haile Selassie, an Ethiopian leader who was also a spiritual leader for the Rastafarian movement. The song addresses freedom from oppression and brings awareness to the political unrest in Jamaica.
Sadly, Marley died of malignant melanoma in 1981 which he left unchecked.
Bob Marley continues to leave an unmatched legacy today as his music continues to be streamed all around the world.