There are few people more iconic than Bob Marley. Born to a young mother in St. Ann, Jamaica, on February 6th 1945, he grew up in a slum neighborhood in Kingston where he got a first hand lesson in disparity. Having American radio available, he listened to musicians such as Curtis Mayfield, The Drifters, Fats Domino and Ray Charles. In 1962, at the age of 20, Marley records “Judge Not,” at a studio in Kingston, which becomes his first single. The next year Marley forms a trio with childhood friends Peter McIntosh and Neville O’riley Livingston. Originally named “The Wailing Wailers” their name is eventually shortened to “The Wailers.” McIntosh becomes known as “Pete Tosh” and Livingston becomes known as “Bunny Wailer.” In 1963 The Wailers record their first single at Studio One and “Simmer Down” becomes a hit. Three years later Marley marries “Rita” Constantia Anderson.
By 1970 The Wailers have added brothers Aston and Carlton Barrett and after hooking up with producer Lee Perry, the group starts recording. They release “Soul Rebels” that same year, followed by “Soul Revolution” in 1971, which includes the song “Duppy Conqueror.” On December 30th 1971, Marley meets with Chris Blackwell in London. Blackwell, being head of “Island Records,” makes the wise decision to sign Marley, which is beneficial to both of them. It makes Marley much more famous and puts Island on the map as the top reggae label. In 1972 The Wailers release “Catch a Fire.” The album is released in the United Kingdom and is said to be “the first genuine reggae album.” It is released in the United States the following year. In 1973 they release “Burnin,” which includes the song “I Shot the Sheriff,” written by Marley. At this point original members “Tosh” and “Bunny” leave the band. This makes Marley the complete focal point of the group and he takes on the task of rhythm guitar, singing and song writing. Of course, he is not completely by himself. He is backed by a vocal trio, that includes his wife Rita. The next year “I Shot the Sheriff” is released by Eric Clapton and increases The Wailers popularity.
In 1975 “Natty Dread” is released in America and becomes the band’s first album to break into the charts. By this point Marley is extremely popular, especially in his home country of Jamaica. Time magazine writes that he even rivals the government as a political force. Knowing this he decides to hold a free concert called “Smile Jamaica.” The idea was to reduce tensions between the political parties. Two days before the concert is scheduled to be held, Marley is attacked by gunmen, and both Marley and his wife Rita are injured, although not seriously. Despite this fact, the concert continues as planned and on December 5th Marley takes the stage entertaining and empowering the 80,000 who attend. In 1976 Bob Marley and The Wailers release “Rastaman Vibration.” The album is certified gold in both the United Kingdom as well as in the US. It is also the group’s most successful album reaching the #8 on the charts.
Recording sessions in London produce an excess of 20 songs. This would be the first time in 6 years that the band records outside of Jamaica. The new material becomes two albums. “Exodus” is released on June 3rd 1977 which includes the quintessential Marley hit “Jamming.” In 1978 the second album, “Kaya,” is released and includes songs such as “Sun is Shining,” “Misty Morning,” and the unforgettable classic “Is This Love.” The next year the band releases “Survival” and they embark on a 47 stop tour with their first stop being the legendary Apollo Theatre in Harlem, New York City. The following year brings another album “Uprising.” This album includes the track “Redemption Song,“ but unfortunately will be the last studio album ever released while Marley is still alive.
On September 20th 1980 while jogging, Marley suffers a stroke. This is quite unusual considering Marley is only 35 years of age. Tragically X-rays determine that Marley has cancer. The next day he performs his last concert in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and is forced to cancel the remainder of his shows. The cancer, which is now in his lungs, stomach and brain, kills him less than a year later, on May 11th, 1981. Marley is given a state funeral by the Jamaican government and is buried next to the church he was born in. Although Bob Marley lived only a short life, it was a very meaningful and influential one. His legacy and fame continue to grow and touch new generations of music fans around the world with his seemingly timeless music.