"Though the road's been rocky, it sure feels good to me." -- Bob Marley
The soul-stirring music of Jamaican singer-songwriter and guitarist Bob Marley comes from a place of positivity: Marley's songs convey his deeply-held vision of life as a journey to endure with joy. There is no road to happiness, for it lies in the moment you're living.
Marley overcame the conditions of poverty on his native island to spread his message of spiritual strength, peace, and justice with the world, becoming the first world music star to rise from the slums.
Bob Marley Life Story
Robert Nesta "Bob" Marley was born on February 6, 1945 in St. Ann Parish, Jamaica. His African-Jamaican mother was only a teenager when she married Marley's father, an older European-born man who was working as the overseer of a plantation. Although he provided some financial support, Marley's father was not present in his life and he died when Bob was only 10.
As a schoolboy in the rural community of Nine Mile, Bob Marley surrounded himself with music. His childhood friend Neville "Bunny" Livingston inspired him to learn to play guitar. When Marley moved with his mother to Trenchtown, one of the poorest neighborhoods in Kingston, he sought enrichment in music, taking advantage of a lively local music scene and tuning into popular American artists on the radio. He found a mentor in musician Joe Higgs, who helped him improve his singing voice.
The Hero’s Journey
From Local Success to Global Sensation
All the hard work on his vocals paid off: Marley caught the ear of a local producer who recorded his first few singles. But he was not a solo success. So he called on his friends, "Bunny" Livingston and Peter McIntosh, to form the Wailers, whose first single, "Simmer Down," rocketed to the top of the charts in Jamaica in January 1964. The band was popular, but they struggled financially.
It was Marley's inspired songwriting that first broke into the international scene with "Stir It Up" in collaboration with pop singer John Nash.
In 1972, Bob Marley and the Wailers had their big break with a recording deal for their first full album, Catch a Fire. They went on tour in the U.S. opening for Bruce Springsteen and Sly and the Family Stone, but the band was eventually fired for being more popular than the headliners.
Despite his rising star status, Marley stayed out of the spotlight, trying to keep the focus on the music -- the powerful feeling of its message -- rather than the man, the messenger. He refused interviews that would play up his celebrity.
Spirituality and Political Activism
As his music gained acclaim in the U.S. and beyond, Marley was exploring his spirituality, developing his commitment to the Rastafarian movement, which combined Jamaican nationalism with Old Testament and African heritage sources.
Marley's spiritual growth charged his music politically: in the song, "War," for example, on the album Rastaman Vibration, he envisioned a post-colonial Africa free of the oppressive system of racial hierarchy. Through his lyrics and actions, Marley put forward a hopeful vision of a world in which people live together in peace. His message reached out to those fighting for justice in his native community of Jamaica and to the wider struggle for human rights.
Threats on His Life
Marley was an active supporter of the People's National Party in Jamaica, and his influence as a popular, outspoken musician nearly cost him his life. In 1976, Marley survived an assassination attempt, when he and his band were fired on during practice in his home. Marley was shot in the sternum and bicep, his wife received a bullet to the head, and his manager, who was shot 5 times, underwent life-saving emergency surgery. The band refused to let violence win the day and played as planned in Kingston National Heroes Park two days later.
In 1977, Marley was diagnosed with melanoma in his toe. His doctor recommended amputation, but Marley objected to the procedure because Rastafarians believe in maintaining the wholeness of the body.
As Bob Marley and the Wailers put out hit after hit, including the anthem of freedom, "Redemption Song," Marley's health was deteriorating. The band planned a U.S. tour to follow their European one, but they could only play 2 concerts (both in Madison Square Gardens, NY) before Marley became too ill to go on; the cancer found in his toe had spread to his brain.
Marley went to Germany for unconventional cancer treatment that was compatible with his religious beliefs, but his condition was beyond hope. With the limited time he had left, Marley wanted to return to his home country. Sadly, he didn't make the journey: Bob Marley passed away in Miami, Florida on May 11, 1981. His last words to his son Ziggy were "Money can't buy life."
Legacy of Living
Bob Marley did not set out to become a rock star, and that's why he became so much more. Success for Marley was not measured in dollars or material goods, but in the individuals who were moved by the energy he put out in the world. Marley is a hero for connecting his own struggle with everybody's struggle, unifying people in the rhythm, in the feeling of song.
photo by: Peter Pham
Bob Marley Biography
Bob Marley was a Jamaican singer-songwriter, musician, and one of the most influential figures in the history of reggae music. He was born Robert Nesta Marley on February 6, 1945, in Nine Mile, Jamaica.
Marley began his music career in 1963 as the lead singer of The Wailers, a band that blended traditional ska, rock steady, and Rastafarian influences. The Wailers released several successful albums and singles, including "Catch a Fire" and "Burnin'," which helped to establish them as one of the most popular reggae bands in the world.
In 1977, Marley released the album "Exodus," which is considered by many to be his masterpiece and one of the greatest albums of all time. The album featured the hit singles "Jamming" and "One Love/People Get Ready" and helped to bring reggae music to a global audience.
Throughout his career, Marley was known for his powerful and socially conscious lyrics, which addressed issues such as poverty, oppression, and political corruption. He is also considered a symbol of Jamaica and Rastafarian culture, and his music continues to be celebrated and influential around the world.
Marley died of cancer on May 11, 1981, at the age of 36. Despite his early death, he is considered one of the greatest and most beloved musicians of all time, and his music continues to be celebrated and influential around the world.
In summary, Bob Marley was a Jamaican singer-songwriter, musician and one of the most influential figures in the history of reggae music. He began his music career in 1963 as the lead singer of The Wailers. He released several successful albums and singles, including "Catch a Fire" and "Burnin'" which helped to establish them as one of the most popular reggae bands in the world. He is considered a symbol of Jamaica and Rastafarian culture and his music continues to be celebrated and influential around the world.
Bob Marley Fast Facts
* Bob Marley was a Jamaican singer-songwriter and musician, widely considered as one of the most influential figures in the history of reggae music.
* He was born Robert Nesta Marley on February 6, 1945, in Nine Mile, Jamaica.
* He began his music career in 1963 as the lead singer of The Wailers, a band that blended traditional ska, rock steady, and Rastafarian influences.
* The Wailers released several successful albums and singles, including "Catch a Fire" and "Burnin'," which helped to establish them as one of the most popular reggae bands in the world.
* In 1977, Marley released the album "Exodus," which is considered by many to be his masterpiece and one of the greatest albums of all time.
* He was known for his powerful and socially conscious lyrics, which addressed issues such as poverty, oppression, and political corruption.
* He is also considered a symbol of Jamaica and Rastafarian culture and his music continues to be celebrated and influential around the world.
* Marley died of cancer on May 11, 1981, at the age of 36.
* He has sold over 75 million records worldwide, making him one of the best-selling music artists of all time.
* He was awarded Jamaica's Order of Merit in 1981, and in 1994, he was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
* His album "Exodus" was named the greatest album of the 20th century by Time magazine in 1999.
* He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.
* Bob Marley's music continues to be celebrated and influential around the world and his message of peace and unity lives on through his music.
Bob Marley Career Highlights
1962–1972: Early Years
Bob Marley's musical journey began in February 1962 when he recorded four songs – "Judge Not," "One Cup of Coffee," "Do You Still Love Me?," and "Terror" – at Federal Studios, working with local music producer Leslie Kong. Three of these songs were released on Beverley's label, while "One Cup of Coffee" was attributed to the pseudonym Bobby Martell. In 1963, Marley, along with Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh, Junior Braithwaite, Beverley Kelso, and Cherry Smith, formed a group initially known as the Teenagers. They went through several name changes before settling on the name the Wailers. Under Coxsone Dodd's record label, they released "Simmer Down" in 1964, becoming a hit and selling around 70,000 copies. The group's lineup underwent changes, leaving Marley, Bunny Wailer, and Peter Tosh as the core members by 1966.
During this time, Marley married Rita Anderson in 1966 and briefly moved to Wilmington, Delaware, in the United States. He took on various jobs, including working as a lab assistant at DuPont and on the assembly line and as a forklift operator at a Chrysler plant, using the alias Donald Marley. It was during his time away from his mother's influence that Marley became interested in Rastafari beliefs, formally converting to Rastafarianism and growing dreadlocks upon his return to Jamaica. He also joined forces with Lee "Scratch" Perry and his band, the Upsetters, producing some of the Wailers' most celebrated work. Despite the collaboration ending after a disagreement over recording rights, they continued to collaborate.
In 1969, the reggae beat underwent a transformation, slowing down even further with a distinct rhythm. Marley worked with producer Leslie Kong to create a new reggae sound. The recording sessions saw the fusion of the Wailers with Kong's studio musicians, leading to the creation of tracks that showcased the Wailers' early efforts in the reggae genre. The album "The Best of The Wailers" was released, featuring tracks like "Soul Shakedown Party," "Stop That Train," "Caution," and more.
Between 1968 and 1972, Marley and his bandmates re-cut older tracks with JAD Records in Kingston and London in an attempt to make the Wailers' sound more commercially viable. These tracks were not intended for official album release but served as demos for record companies. During this time, Marley also explored different musical styles in collaboration with songwriter Jimmy Norman, aiming to break into the US charts. He lived in Bloomsbury, London, during 1972, an artist still establishing his presence beyond his Jamaican roots.
1972–1974: Move to Island Records
In 1972, Bob Marley's journey took a significant turn as he signed with CBS Records in London and embarked on a UK tour alongside soul singer Johnny Nash. During their time in London, Marley and his band, The Wailers, seized the opportunity to meet with Chris Blackwell, the founder of Island Records. Originally intending to discuss royalties related to their previous releases, the meeting took an unexpected turn. Chris Blackwell was captivated by Marley's potential as a rebel rock icon, following the departure of Island's top reggae star, Jimmy Cliff. The meeting resulted in an advance of £4,000 for Marley and the Wailers to record an album, marking a pivotal moment in their career. The album, titled "Catch a Fire," was recorded in Kingston's Harry J's studio and represented the first time a reggae band had access to a state-of-the-art studio, providing them the same treatment as rock artists. Blackwell's innovative approach led to a unique sound that blended elements of reggae and rock, resulting in a critically acclaimed album. Marley's involvement extended to overseeing the album's production in London, where he collaborated with Blackwell to refine the mixes and arrangements. The album's release in April 1973, complete with a distinctive Zippo lighter lift-top packaging, marked a new chapter for Marley and The Wailers.
The success of "Catch a Fire" was followed by the release of "Burnin'" later that year, featuring the iconic track "I Shot the Sheriff." This song gained additional fame when Eric Clapton recorded a cover version that topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Despite resistance from some Jamaicans to the evolving reggae sound, the album found resonance with both reggae and rock audiences. Simultaneously, Chris Blackwell demonstrated his support for Marley by gifting him a property in Kingston, known as 56 Hope Road, which became Marley's home and the headquarters of his Tuff Gong Studios. This period was characterized by Marley's rise to international recognition, accompanied by an exploration of his distinctive musical fusion.
1974–1976: Line-up Changes and Shooting
Following the temporary dissolution of The Wailers, Bob Marley continued his musical journey as "Bob Marley & The Wailers." The revamped lineup featured key musicians like Carlton and Aston "Family Man" Barrett, Junior Marvin, Al Anderson, Tyrone Downie, Earl "Wya" Lindo, and Alvin "Seeco" Patterson. The female vocal trio known as the "I Threes" – consisting of Judy Mowatt, Marcia Griffiths, and Rita Marley – provided backing vocals. The group's efforts bore fruit in 1975 with the release of a live version of "No Woman, No Cry" from the album "Live!" This marked Marley's first international hit outside Jamaica. The subsequent album, "Rastaman Vibration" (1976), brought Marley even greater success, climbing into the Top 50 of the Billboard Soul Charts.
A pivotal incident occurred on December 3, 1976, just prior to the "Smile Jamaica" concert organized by the Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley. Marley's home was attacked by unknown gunmen, resulting in injuries to Bob Marley, his wife Rita, and manager Don Taylor. Despite the political undertones surrounding the event, Marley performed as scheduled at the concert just two days later, with members of the group Zap Pow stepping in as backup since The Wailers were unavailable. This incident underscored Marley's enduring commitment to his music and message in the face of adversity.
1976–1979: Relocation to England
In 1976, Bob Marley made a pivotal decision to leave Jamaica, seeking a period of "recovery and writing." He spent a month at Compass Point Studios in Nassau, Bahamas, before arriving in England for a self-imposed exile that spanned two years. During this time, Marley's musical creativity flourished as he recorded albums like "Exodus" and "Kaya." "Exodus" made a significant impact, remaining on the British album charts for an impressive 56 consecutive weeks. The album's success was fueled by hit singles such as "Exodus," "Waiting in Vain," "Jamming," and the iconic "One Love." Marley's time in London wasn't without legal challenges, as he faced a conviction for possessing a small amount of cannabis in 1977.
Amid his stay in England, Marley returned to Jamaica in 1978 to perform at the One Love Peace Concert, a notable event aimed at promoting peace amidst political tensions. The concert featured a symbolic moment where Marley brought together the political rivals Michael Manley and Edward Seaga on stage, fostering a moment of unity during a politically charged era.
As his time in exile continued, Marley released a series of albums under the name "Bob Marley and the Wailers," including the critically acclaimed double live album "Babylon by Bus" in 1978. This album captured the electric energy of Marley's live performances, with the track "Jamming" serving as a powerful testament to his dynamic stage presence and his ability to connect with audiences on a global scale.
1979–1980: Later Years
During the years 1979 and 1980, Bob Marley's music and activism took on a defiant and politically charged tone. His album "Survival," released in 1979, showcased his unwavering support for the struggles faced by Africans. Songs like "Zimbabwe," "Africa Unite," "Wake Up and Live," and the titular track "Survival" echoed his solidarity with the African people. Marley's commitment to anti-apartheid sentiments was evident in his performance at the Amandla Festival in Boston in July 1979, further reinforcing his stance against South African apartheid. This perspective was already expressed in his 1976 song "War." In early 1980, he was honored to perform at the celebration of Zimbabwe's Independence Day on April 17th.
In 1980, Marley released "Uprising," his final studio album, which carried a profound religious undertone. This album contained some of his most spiritually resonant tracks, including "Redemption Song" and "Forever Loving Jah." "Uprising" served as a testament to Marley's evolving musical and personal journey. Even after his passing, his work continued to be shared with the world. "Confrontation," released posthumously in 1983, featured previously unreleased material from Marley's lifetime, such as the hit "Buffalo Soldier" and fresh mixes of songs that had previously only been available in Jamaica.
Illness and Death
In July 1977, Marley faced a significant health challenge when he was diagnosed with malignant melanoma, specifically acral lentiginous melanoma, under his right big toe. This diagnosis debunked the myth that the lesion was caused by a football injury, revealing it to be a symptom of pre-existing cancer. Despite medical advice, Marley declined amputation of his toe due to his religious beliefs. Instead, the nail and nail bed were removed, and a skin graft from his thigh was used for coverage. Despite his illness, Marley persisted in touring and was even planning a world tour in 1980.
In May 1980, "Uprising" was released, and Marley embarked on a major European tour that included a monumental concert at San Siro stadium in Milan, Italy, where he performed for a crowd of 100,000. Following the tour, Marley continued to the United States and performed two shows at Madison Square Garden in New York City as part of the Uprising Tour. Tragically, during a jog in Central Park, Marley collapsed. Subsequent medical examination revealed that his cancer had metastasized to his brain, lungs, and liver.
Marley's final concert took place just two days later at the Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on September 23, 1980. This marked the last live performance by the iconic artist. His health rapidly declined due to the cancer's spread throughout his body. Seeking treatment, Marley went to the clinic of Josef Issels in Germany for alternative cancer treatment called Issels treatment. Eventually, after unsuccessful attempts to halt the disease, Marley returned to Jamaica. However, during a flight layover in Miami, Florida, his condition worsened, leading to his admittance to Cedars of Lebanon Hospital. On May 11, 1981, Bob Marley passed away at the age of 36 due to the spread of melanoma to his lungs and brain.
Marley's legacy was honored with a state funeral in Jamaica on May 21, 1981, incorporating elements of Ethiopian Orthodoxy and Rastafari tradition. He was interred near his birthplace in Nine Mile, Jamaica, with his burial casket containing his red Gibson Les Paul guitar, an open Bible displaying Psalm 23, and a stalk of ganja placed by his widow, Rita Marley. Jamaican Prime Minister Edward Seaga delivered a moving eulogy, emphasizing how Marley's essence remained an indelible part of the nation's collective consciousness.
Bob Marley Best Quotes
"Open your eyes, look within. Are you satisfied with the life you're living?" (Meaning)
"The greatness of a man is not in how much wealth he acquires, but in his integrity and his ability to affect those around him positively.
"Life is one big road with lots of signs. So when you riding through the ruts, don't complicate your mind. Flee from hate, mischief and jealousy. Don't bury your thoughts, put your vision to reality. Wake Up and Live!"
"Every man gotta right to decide his own destiny." (Meaning)
"In this bright future you can't forget your past." (Meaning)
"Me only have one ambition, y'know. I only have one thing I really like to see happen. I like to see mankind live together - black, white, Chinese, everyone - that's all."
"Man is a universe within himself." (Meaning)
"As a man sow, shall he reap. and I know that talk is cheap. But the heat of the battle is as sweet as the victory."
"Get up, stand up, Stand up for your rights. Get up, stand up, Don't give up the fight." (Meaning)
"If you're white and you're wrong, then you're wrong; if you're black and you're wrong, you're wrong. People are people. Black, blue, pink, green - God make no rules about color; only society make rules where my people suffer, and that why we must have redemption and redemption now."
"Rastafari not a culture, it's a reality."
"Babylon is everywhere. You have wrong and you have right. Wrong is what we call Babylon, wrong things. That is what Babylon is to me. I could have born in England, I could have born in America, it make no difference where me born, because there is Babylon everywhere.
"One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain." (Meaning)
"Don't gain the world and lose your soul; wisdom is better than silver or gold"
"When you smoke the herb, it reveals you to yourself."
"When one door is closed, don't you know, another is open."
"None but ourselves can free our minds." (Meaning)
"Herb is the healing of a nation, alcohol is the destruction."
"Everything is political. I will never be a politician or even think political. Me just deal with life and nature. That is the greatest thing to me."
"What important is man should live in righteousness, in natural love for mankind."
"My music will go on forever. Maybe it's a fool say that, but when me know facts me can say facts. My music will go on forever."
"The devil ain't got no power over me. The devil come, and me shake hands with the devil. Devil have his part to play. Devil's a good friend, too... because when you don't know him, that's the time he can mosh you down."
"God sent me on earth. He send me to do something, and nobody can stop me. If God want to stop me, then I stop. Man never can."
"Every time I plant a seed, He say kill it before it grow, he say kill it before they grow."
"Truth is everybody is going to hurt you: you just gotta find the ones worth suffering for." (Meaning)
"The greatness of a man is not in how much wealth he acquires, but in his integrity and his ability to affect those around him positively." (Meaning)
"Life is one big road with lots of signs. So when you riding through the ruts, don't complicate your mind. Flee from hate, mischief and jealousy." (Meaning)
"Don't gain the world and lose your soul; wisdom is better than silver or gold." (Meaning)
"If you get down and quarell everyday, you're saying prayers to the devil" (Meaning)
"The good times of today, are the sad thoughts of tomorrow." (Meaning)
"I have no education. I have inspiration. If I was educated, I would be a damn fool." (Meaning)
"If something can corrupt you, you're corrupted already." (Meaning)
"I don't stand for the black man's side, I don' t stand for the white man's side. I stand for God's side." (Meaning)
* The editor of this short biography made every effort to maintain information accuracy, including any quotes, facts, or key life events. If you're looking to expand your personal development, I recommend exploring other people's life stories and gaining inspiration from my collection of inspiring quotes. Exposing yourself to different perspectives can broaden your worldview and help you with your personal growth.
Tal Gur is an author, founder, and impact-driven entrepreneur at heart. After trading his daily grind for a life of his own daring design, he spent a decade pursuing 100 major life goals around the globe. His journey and most recent book, The Art of Fully Living, has led him to found Elevate Society.