Robert Nesta “Bob” Marley, OM, was born on February 6th, 1945. Marley was the bi-racial child of an older white man and a young black woman. He grew up in a beautiful hamlet in the mountains of Jamaica. In 1962, at the age of 17, he put out his first single. Throughout the next ten years he would make numerous recordings. The singer-songwriter/musician was the lead singer and rhythm guitarist for the reggae, rocksteady and ska group Bob Marley & The Wailers.
Commercial success eluded him so the newly married Marley relocated to America in 1969 to take a routine job at an auto factory in Delaware. That wouldn’t last for long and he would soon move back to Jamaica with a new attitude. He hooked up with a new producer and a new label. In 1973 he would release a landmark album titled Catch A Fire.
The difference here was in promotion. This record was packaged and marketed like a rock album. He was also specifically promoted to rock music fans. In fact, he even shared the bill with Bruce Springsteen at several shows in New York City.
Marley’s musical mix of blues, rock and West Indies folk began to catch on with audiences. After guitar god Eric Clapton covered Marley’s tune “I Shot the Sheriff” in 1974 Marley and his band were finally in the spotlight. Marley’s seemingly endless hooks and loosely-patterned melodies ramped his success through the 1970s and he also gained credibility as somewhat of a social leader.
Marley was soon bringing Jamaican music and the Rastafari movement (nature, pot and peace) to a global audience. Within the relaxed framework of a reggae rhythm that would have listeners falling into the groove, Marley converted simple song lyrics into sharp criticisms. His music was obviously influenced by the various social issues of his country.
The audio outpouring of sadness for his loved albeit corrupt country stirred the consciences of people the world over. He gave voice to the political and cultural nexus of Jamaica. Unfortunately, the Jamaican government only recognized the sword. In December of 1976, only two days before he was scheduled to do a free “Smile Jamaica” concert focused on reducing tensions between warring political parties, Marley and his entourage were attacked by gunmen.
No one was killed but bullets grazed both Marley and his wife. To his credit, Marley chose not to run but to let the incident simply further galvanize his political opinions. In fact, later releases—such as 1977’s Exodus and1979’s Survival—had a decidedly urgent, obvious political bent.
A cancerous growth was found on one of Marley’s toes in 1977. In the summer of 1980, it was discovered that cancer had infested his vital organs. On May 11th, 1981, he died at a Miami clinic from lung and brain cancer. He was 36.
Marley was laid to rest just a short walk from the stone house in which he was born. He lies in a white mausoleum surrounded by a red, yellow and green-splashed fence. In 1991 the government of Jamaica proclaimed his birthday a national holiday.
Every year since, numerous artists have celebrated his memory by performing on a nearby stage. The site is in a village of Nine Mile which is 70 miles from Kingston and is accessible from the B3 road. Although Marley never had an actual hit song of his own in the US, he stands as the most widely known, revered reggae rockers in popular music.
His most popular tunes “No Woman, No Cry”, “Could You Be Loved”, “Stir It Up”, “Jamming”, “Redemption Song”, “One Love” and, with The Wailers, “Three Little Birds”, and the posthumous releases “Buffalo Soldier” and “Iron Lion Zion”. The 1984 compilation Legend is reggae’s best-selling record. It went ten times Platinum (one Diamond) in the U.S. and sold over 25 million copies the world over. Like many long-gone legends, Marley may is long gone but the power of his music may never reach the end.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.