Bob Marley Biography – Jamaican Musician, Singer, Songwriter, Reggae Icon, Legacy

Bob Marley biography
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Bob Marley Biography and Legacy

Bob Marley was a Jamaican singer, songwriter, and musician, who is considered one of the most influential musicians of all time and a pioneer of reggae.

Over the course of his short life, Marley became a Rastafari and cultural icon, who increased the awareness of Jamaican music and culture across the world.

Through his work and his beliefs, Marley became a global symbol of peace and Jamaican identity and culture. He is now widely regarded as one of the greatest singer-songwriters of all time.

Early Life

Bob Marley was born on 6th February 1945, at the farm of his maternal grandfather in Nine Mile, a district in Saint Ann Parish, Jamaica.

Marley’s father, Norval Marley was from Crowborough, East Sussex in England, then residing in Clarendon Parish in Jamaica. He was said to be a captain in the Royal Marines.

Marley’s mother, Cedella Malcolm, was a Jamaican singer. At the time of her marriage to Norval, she was just 18 years old. And Norval was employed as a plantation overseer.

Even though Norval provided financial support to Cedella and Marley, he rarely saw them as he was often away from home.

Early Musical Explorations

When Bob Marley began attending Stepney Primary and Junior High School, he met Neville Livingston (who would come to be known as Bunny Wailer), and they began playing music together.

In 1955, when Marley was 10 years old, his father died of a heart attack at the age of 70.

In 1957, Marley, aged 12, left Nine Mile along with his mother and moved to Trenchtown, Kingston. There Marley’s mother and Bunny’s father had a daughter together whom they named Claudette Pearl.

Marley and Bunny were now living together in the same house in Trenchtown, allowing them to play and explore their music together. They were deeply influenced by R&B music from American radio stations and the relatively new ska music.

The two of them soon found themselves in a vocal group that included Peter Tosh, Junior Braithwaite, and Beverley Kelso.

The group began mingling and rehearsing with Joe Higgs and Roy Wilson, who were a successful singing duo in Jamaica named Higgs and Wilson.

No one in Marley’s group knew how to play any instruments, so Higgs began teaching Marley how to play the guitar. Higgs and Wilson also helped Marley’s group develop their vocal harmonies.

Early Recordings

In February 1962, Bob Marley, aged 17, recorded four songs at Federal Studios for Leslie Kong, an influential Chinese-Jamaican local music producer. The songs were Judge Not, Do You Still Love Me?, Terror, and One Cup of Coffee.

One Cup of Coffee was released as a single under the pseudonym Bobby Martell. The other three songs were released by the record label Beverley’s, owned by Leslie Kong. The label also launched the career of Jimmy Cliff.

Initial Success as a Band

In 1963, Bob Marley and his vocal group were called The Teenagers. Later on, they changed their name to Wailing Rudeboys, then to Wailing Wailers, and then finally to The Wailers. Around this time, they were discovered by the record producer Coxsone Dodd.

In February 1964, their single Simmer Down for Coxson’s label went to No. 1 in the Jamaican charts, selling around 70,000 copies.

After the success of their single, The Wailers began to regularly record for Studio One. They found themselves working with established Jamaican musicians such as the keyboardist Jackie Mittoo, the saxophonist Roland Alphonso, and the guitarist and composer Ernest Ranglin.

In 1965, The Wailers released their debut album The Wailing Wailers through the Studio One label, produced by Dodd. The album contained the hit single One Love, which would go on to become a popular song internationally, thereby establishing the group as pioneers of reggae.

By 1966, Kelso, Braithwaite, and Cherry Smith (a backing vocalist) had left the group due to various reasons, leaving behind the core trio of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Bunny Wailer.

Marriage and Move to America

In 1966, Bob Marley, aged 21, married Rita Anderson, a Cuban-born Jamaican singer who was a backing vocalist for The Wailers.

Shortly after his marriage, Marley moved to Delaware, in the United States, and lived near his mother’s residence in Wilmington. The reason for his move is unclear.

For the brief period that he lived in America, Marley worked as a lab assistant at DuPont and on the assembly line at a Chrysler plant in Newark, under the name Donald Marley.

But Marley did not stay there for long. He did not like the pace of life in America and soon decided to head back to Jamaica.

Change in Beliefs

Bob Marley was raised a Catholic by his mother. But when his mother moved to America, Marley was left alone with no one to influence his beliefs.

He grew interested in Rastafari beliefs and became a supporter of the Rastafari movement. Rastafari was a religion that developed in Jamaica in the 1930s and was regarded as both a social and religious movement.

Upon his return from America, Marley officially converted to Rastafari and began growing dreadlocks.

Association with Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry

After a financial disagreement with Dodd, The Wailers teamed up with Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and his studio band The Upsetters.

Perry was a record producer and singer, known for his production style and innovative studio techniques.

Together, they produced Soul Rebels, the second studio album by The Wailers, in December 1970. Perry’s production is haunting and sparse, featuring guitar, drums, electronic organs, bass, and vocals, with no horns or other embellishments.

In 1971, they produced Soul Revolution, the third studio album by The Wailers.

The two albums with Perry are considered some of the finest works by The Wailers.

But shortly after the release of Soul Revolution, the alliance came to an end. The Wailers and Perry decided to part ways after a dispute regarding the assignment of recording rights.

In spite of this, they continued to work together on and off.

Change in the Jamaican Music Scene

In 1969, the Jamaican music scene changed once again. The new beat was a slow, steady, ticking rhythm that was first heard on The Maytals’ song Do the Reggay.

After splitting with Lee Perry, The Wailers collaborated with Leslie Kong once again, working with his studio musicians called Beverley’s.

With the new collaboration, the saxophones and ska trumpets of the earlier songs disappeared, and instrumental breaks were now being played by the electric guitar.

The collaboration resulted in The Best of The Wailers, the fourth studio album by The Wailers, released in August 1971. In spite of what the title of the album might suggest, it is not a compilation album.

A week after the album was released, Leslie Kong died of a heart attack at the age of 38.

Deal with Island Records

In 1972, The Wailers signed with CBS Records in London and then embarked on a UK tour with the American soul singer Johnny Nash.

While touring London, The Wailers met with Chris Blackwell of Island Records to discuss the royalties associated with their Coxsone releases, which had been licensed for Island Records. But instead, the meeting resulted in the offer of a 4000 pounds advance to record an album.

Jimmy Cliff had recently left the label and Blackwell was looking for a replacement, which he found in The Wailers.

Having accepted the deal, The Wailers returned to Jamaica to record the new album.

Catch a Fire

Catch a Fire was the fifth studio album by The Wailers, released in April 1973. It was their first album with Island Records. It was also the first time that a reggae band had access to a state-of-the-art studio for their recording.

The album contains nine songs, seven of which were written by Bob Marley and two by Peter Tosh.

After the recording was completed, Marley went to London with the tapes, where Blackwell began restructuring Marley’s mixes and arrangements in order to create a more drifting and hypnotic feel than just a reggae rhythm.

The album received a positive critical reception and sold around 14,000 copies initially. The supporting concert tour across England and America established The Wailers as international stars.


In October of 1973, Burnin’, the sixth studio album by The Wailers, was released.

The album was mostly written by Bob Marley and produced by Chris Blackwell. It includes two of Marley’s most famous songs, I Shot the Sheriff and Get Up, Stand Up.

Eric Clapton, who was given the album by the guitarist George Terry, was so impressed by I Shot the Sheriff, that he recorded a cover version of it.

Clapton’s cover became his first US hit since Layla two years earlier, and it reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1974.

The album was a great critical and commercial success in America, and the Trenchtown style of the album attracted admirers from both rock and reggae audiences.

During this period, Blackwell gifted his Kingston residence and company headquarters to Marley. The residence included Tuff Gong studios, and it became Marley’s house and office.

Tuff Gong was the brand name associated with a number of businesses started by Bob Marley.

Disbanding of The Wailers

In 1974, The Wailers officially disbanded.

Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer departed to start their solo careers and the band came to be known as Bob Marley and the Wailers. Marley continued to record and tour with his new backing band.

In 1975, Marley had his first international breakthrough with a live version of No Woman, No Cry from the Live! album (their seventh studio album). The song would go on to become Marley’s most popular and iconic song.

In April 1976, the band released Rastaman Vibration, their eighth studio album. The album was Marley’s breakthrough album in the United States, reaching the top 50 of the Billboard Soul Charts.

Assassination Attempt

In December 1976, the Jamaican Prime Minister, Michael Manley, organized a free concert called Smile Jamaica Concert, in an attempt to ease tensions between the two warring political groups.

On 3rd December, two days before the concert, Bob Marley, Rita, and their manager Don Taylor were shot at by an unknown gunman inside Marley’s house.

Marley received minor wounds in the chest and arm, while Rita and Taylor were seriously injured. Fortunately, all three of them made full recoveries.

The assassination attempt was believed to be politically motivated.

Despite the attack on his life, Marley, still injured, went on to perform at the concert two days later as scheduled. The Jamaican reggae band Zap Pow played as his backup band in front of 80,000 people, while the members of The Wailers were still missing or in hiding.

When Marley was later asked why he went on to perform after the attack, he said, “The people who are trying to make this world worse aren’t taking a day off. How can I?”

Moving to England

Toward the end of 1976, Bob Marley left Jamaica for England, where he would spend the next two years.

While living in England, The Wailers recorded Exodus, their ninth studio album, which was released in June 1977 through Island Records.

Exodus is a reggae album, with elements of blues, British rock, soul, and funk. The album revolves around the themes of religious politics, change, and sex. It was a critical and commercial success, receiving gold certifications in the US, Canada, and the UK.

With the success of the album, Marley had truly become a global icon.

Return to Jamaica

In 1978, Bob Marley returned to Jamaica and performed at another political concert called the One Love Peace Concert. Once again, the concert was organized to calm the two warring parties.

Toward the end of the performance, upon Marley’s request, Michael Manley (leader of the ruling People’s National Party) and Edward Seaga (leader of the opposing Jamaica Labour Party) came up on stage and shook hands.

The same year, Bob Marley and the Wailers released their tenth studio album, Kaya.

The album has a relaxed, laid-back sound, lacking the energetic and militant quality of their previous albums. The songs primarily revolved around love and marijuana.

Some of the well-known songs from the album include Is This Love and Satisfy My Soul.

Diagnosed with Cancer

In July of 1977, Bob Marley was diagnosed with a type of malignant melanoma under a toenail.

It was generally believed that this lesion was caused by an injury while playing football. But that is not true. It was actually a symptom of already-existing cancer.

Marley saw two doctors before a biopsy was made, which confirmed acral lentiginous melanoma. This type of melanoma is the most common melanoma in people with dark skin, but it was not widely recognized.

His doctors advised him to have his toe amputated, but he refused to do so, citing religious reasons. Instead, the nail and nail bed were removed, and a skin graft was taken from his thigh to cover the area.


Despite his illness, Bob Marley continued to tour and record.

On 2nd October 1979, Bob Marley and the Wailers released Survival, their eleventh studio album.

The album is politically charged and has a defiant and militant theme. The songs in the album such as Africa Unite, Zimbabwe, and Survival, reflect Marley’s wholehearted support for Pan-African solidarity and the struggle of the African people.

The album was originally supposed to be called Black Survival to highlight the urgency of African unity. But it was later shortened to Survival to avoid any misinterpretation of the theme.

In July 1979, Marley performed at the Amandla Festival in Boston, to show his support for the South African Liberation Movement and his opposition to Apartheid.

On 17th April 1980, Marley was invited to perform his song Zimbabwe at Zimbabwe’s Independence Day celebration.

Final Album and Tour

On 10th June 1980, Bob Marley and the Wailers released Uprising, their twelfth and final studio album before Marley’s death.

It is one of Marley’s most religious albums, with almost all songs referring to Rastafarian beliefs. The album also includes one of his most loved and poignant songs, Redemption Song.

After the album’s release, Bob Marley and the Wailers began a major tour of Europe, where they played their biggest concert to 100,000 people in Milan.

After the Europe tour, they made their way to America, where they played two shows at Madison Square Garden, New York City.

One day, while jogging in Central Park, Marley collapsed and was taken to the hospital. It was then that he found out that his cancer had spread to his brain, lungs, and liver.

Two days after the incident, on 23rd September 1980, Marley performed at the Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in what would be his last concert.

Last Days

After the performance, Marley’s health drastically deteriorated. His cancer had spread throughout his body by now, and the rest of the tour was canceled.

Marley went to the clinic of Josef Issels (a German physician known for promoting an alternative cancer therapy regimen, called the Issels treatment) in Bavaria, Germany.

At the clinic, he underwent the Issels treatment that was partly based on avoidance of certain foods, drinks, and other substances.


After eight months of treatment, there was no improvement in Marley’s condition. His cancer continued to spread.

Bob Marley decided to head back to Jamaica.

During the flight to Jamaica, Marley’s vital functions worsened. Upon landing in Miami, he was rushed to the Cedars of Lebanon Hospital for urgent medical attention.

On 11th May 1981, Bob Marley, aged 36, died due to the spread of melanoma to his lungs and brain.

Marley’s final words to his son Ziggy were, “Money can’t buy life.”

On 21st May 1981, Marley was given a State funeral in Jamaica, which included elements of Ethiopian Orthodoxy and Rastafari tradition.

Bob Marley was buried in a chapel near his birthplace along with his guitar.


Since his death, Bob Marley has become one of the most iconic and famous figures in history. His music continues to stand the test of time and is more popular now across the world than even during his lifetime.

Marley is known and revered not just as a musician, but as someone who stood for something greater and more significant. His message of peace, love, and unity is what makes him the global and cultural icon he is today.

Marley’s message continues to resonate with various oppressed communities across the world. He is also revered among various indigenous communities around the world. The Australian Aboriginal People burn a sacred flame to honor his memory. And the Native American Havasupai and Hopi also revere and admire him and his work.

Over the years, Marley has become an important cultural icon, achieving a status similar to that of Che Guevara. His image and style have been merchandized and commercialized to no end.

Today, Marley has come to be associated with his catchy hit songs, but few realize that he stood for much more. He was a man who understood the need for Africa to unite in order to fight and win its freedom. And he understood the ensuing bloodshed that was inevitable. He actively and openly supported the liberation movements of oppressed nations.

Marley was not just a musician but also an activist.

Several festivals, hotels, and restaurants across the world pay tribute to Marley today. He has become a permanent and important part of our culture and history.

Bob Marley was one of those rare personalities such as Muhammad Ali and Pele, who transcended his field of operation and stood for much more in the eyes of humanity.