Robert Nesta Marley (Bob Marley), a Jamaican icon, was born on 6 February 1945 in Nine Mile, Saint Ann, Jamaica to Cedella Booker and Norval Sinclair Marley. Rumour has it that as a boy his birth names of Nesta Robert were reversed to Robert Nesta by a Jamaican passport official because Nesta sounded like a girl’s name.
Marley and Neville Livingston (Bunny Wailer) were childhood friends in Nine Mile and started playing music together while at Stepney Primary and Junior High School. At age 12 Marley moved to Trench Town, Kingston with his Mom, who later had a daughter with Wailer’s Dad.
In 1963 Marley formed a vocal harmony group the Wailers with Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer. The group was introduced to Rastafarianism by Rita who Marley married in February 1966. By 1969 the Wailers fully embraced Rastafarianism, which greatly influenced Marley’s music in particular and reggae music in general. The Wailers collaborated with Lee Scratch Perry, resulting in some of the Wailers’ finest tracks. This collaboration ended bitterly when the Wailers found that Perry, thinking the records were his, sold them in England without their consent.
This initial British exposure brought the Wailers’ music to the attention of Island Records owner Chris Blackwell, who produced their first albums. In 1974 Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer left to start solo careers. Marley then formed Bob Marley and the Wailers, with his wife Rita as one of three backup singers called the I-Threes.
In 1977 Marley was diagnosed with cancer, which was kept secret from the general public while he continued working. On May 11, 1981 Marley died in a Miami hospital, he was 36 years old.
Unlike mere pop stars Marley was a moral and religious figure as well as a major record seller internationally.
Bob Marley was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994; in December 1999, his 1977 album “Exodus” was named Album of the Century by Time Magazine and his song “One Love” was designated Song of the Millennium by the BBC. Although never recognised with a Grammy nomination, in 2001 Marley was bestowed The Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, an honour given by the Recording Academy to: performers who during their lifetimes have made creative contributions of outstanding artistic significance to the field of recording.
Marley’s legend looms larger than ever, attributable to his music, which identified oppressors and agitated for social change while simultaneously allowing listeners to forget their troubles and dance.
Marley is treated like a deity among defiant youth and seasoned revolutionaries alike, who recognised him as one of their own, playing on the streets of Vanuatu, embracing him in Harare during Zimbabwe’s independence, and sending him messages of solidarity from Peruvian jungles to Himalayan hideaways.
One Love and Happy Birthday to a Jamaican icon.