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Bob Marley's Life (1945-1981)

Youth Listen to Bob's Mother talk about his Father

On Feb. 6, 1945, Robert Nesta Marley was born in Jamaica in Nine Miles within the Parish of St.Ann. His mother was an 18 year old Jamaican woman, Cedella Booker. Bob's father was a 50 year old English captain, Norval Sinclair Marley, who was stationed in Jamaica. Bob spent his early years with his mother in St. Ann, then during his teens they moved to Kingston, the capitol of Jamaica. Settling in Trench Town, a shanty town with in Kingston, Bob experienced a childhood filled with poverty and violence. After attending the Stepney School in Kingston, Bob spent some time aquiring a trade as a welder. During his youth, Bob developed a love for singing early on through his involvement in the church choir and the encouragement from friend Desmond Dekker.

Religion Listen to Gill Noble ask Bob "what is a Rasta?"

Bob's earliest experience with religion was guided by his mother's upbringing in Christianity. As a youth he spent time developing his musical awareness in the church choir. Later, in his adult life, Bob converted to Rastafarianism through the influences of those close to him. Bob's wife Rita, who was also raised Christian, sparked Bob's interest in the Rastas when she became exposed to Rastafarianism through contact with other singers. Bob's close friends Joe Higgs and Bunny Livingstone were also Rastas. Mortimmo Planno served as Bob's spiritual guide into Rastafarianism.

Joe Higgs Listen to Joe Higgs

Joe Higgs held great influence in Marley's rise to success. He was a Rastafarian in Kingston who encouraged and nutured young musicians by offering free music coaching at his home. Later, he joined Bob, becoming Bunny Livingston's replacement in the 1973 US tour.

Beverly Studios Listen to Bob's Mother recall his first song

Marley was introduced to Leslie Kong, the producer at Beverly Studios and Jimmy Cliff, an already successful singer, through a good friend, Desmond Dekker. It was here that he recorded his first track, "Judge Not" in 1962, which was accidentally released under the name "Bob Morley". It was rumored that Leslie also tried to pursuade Bob into changing his name to Haddam for stage purposes. Eventually, relations broke with Marley and Kong after Kong refused to pay him for his work.

The Wailing Wailers (Ska) Listen to Bob explain the beat

Shortly after a run in with Beverlly Studios, Bob left and formed the Wailing Wailers in 1962 (Bob Marley, Bunny Livinstone, Peter McIntosh, Junior Brathwaite as lead vocals, and Beverly Kelso and Cherry Smith as back up vocals). The group was so named as Bob explained that , "In those days we were always crying". At the end of 1963, the Coxsone Dodd label released the Wailing Wailers' first single "Simmer Down". This song was written in response to the disturbances in the ghettos between the Rastas and the authorities telling everyone just to "cool it". This was also the first time for Bob and the group's popularity to reach outside of Trenchtown. Ska music was becoming relatively more well known and the so called Rude Boy anthems about the violence in the ghettos took on a cult like following.


On Feb. 10, 1966, Bob married Alpharita Anderson whom he had been dating for almost a year. Alpharita, better known as Rita, was a nurse as well as a singer herself. She later would form the I-Three, which became the back up group for the Wailers. The day after their wedding, Bob left to visit his mother in America for a few months. Together Bob and Rita had their children Sharon, Ziggy, Cedella, Steven and Damian who are all muscially talented, and make up the Melody Makers.

Work in America

In 1966, Bob spent some time in Wilmington, Delaware visting his mother's new home in the United States. He stayed there for almost a year collecting himself after troubles with the group and crooked record studios. Here he earned some money working at a Chrysler car assembly line and upon losing his job, he applied for welfare but was refused. As a final push, Bob was drafted into the U.S. army for service in Vietnam, sending Bob quickly back to Jamaica to recollect where he left off.

The Wailers (Rock Steady)

Back in Trench Town after a brief stay in America, Bob gathered up some of his old friends from the Wailing Wailers and formed the Wailers with Pete Tosh and Bunny Livingstone in 1967. Jamaican music had changed from ska to rock steady, music with a touch of sexuality. One such song was the very popular "Stir it Up". Also, the Rude Boy themes of earlier songs changed to those of social and spiritual issues as the group became more focused on Rastafarianism.

In 1968, the Wailers decided to try forming their own record label after being pushed around by producers and conflicts over their developing Rastafarian image. The new label, Wail 'N Soul, lasted only a brief year after problems with their lack of buisness knowledge and Bunny's nine month stay in prison for the possession of ganga. Bob spent some of his own time in prison for the possession of ganga which he later claimed it was for a driving offense. This gave him time to think and reflect on his life, leading up to some of his best music ever.

Bob Marley and the Wailers (Reggae) Listen to Chris Blackwell

Soon the group hooked up with Lee "Scratch" Perry from Coxsone productions. Perry gave Bob the assurance and confidence to develop his song writing to its full potential. Music shifted from love songs and rude boy themes to rebel music; they had become "soul rebels". Bob wrote the songs and was joined by the Upsetter's, which included Aston 'Family Man' Barret and Carlton 'Carlie' Barret. The Upsetter's added the soul and feeling into Bob's music.

In 1970, Bob tried his shot at a second label, Tuff Gong. Popularity rose and Bob hooked up with Johnny Nash, an American singer who developed a version of Bob's "Stir it up" into a national hit. They spent some time together in Sweden and London working on "Reggae on Broadway" until the project crashed, Nash no longer had use for them, and the Wailers were left broke once again.

Back in Jamaica in 1972, Bob Marley and the Wailers were given another chance through Chris Blackwell of Island Records. Blackwell, an English man, claimed that as a boy a group of Rastas saved his life from a boating accident. For this favor, he felt obligated to help these "wailing Rastas". This US label finally brought the Wailers the international recognition they deserved. Through this, many inspirational songs became known througout the world.


On Monday, May 11, 1981 Bob Marley died at the age of 36. At first Bob went to the hostpital for an injury left un-attended to his toe from a soccer accident, when he was diagnosed with cancer in his liver, lungs, and brain. He spent his last year in several hospitals where news of his health were closely watched by all. Finally, four days after he passed away, the world was given notification that the Rastafarian phrophet had died, and a state funneral was held in his honor.

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