Marley remains the most widely known performers of reggae music and spread Jamaican music and the Rastafari movement to a worldwide audience.
Bob Marley was born on February 6, 1945 in Jamaica to Norval Marley, a middle-aged white plantation overseer from England, and Cedella Booker, a black teenager from the north country. Cedella and Norval were to be married on June 9th, 1944. Approximately a week before the wedding, however, Norval informed Cedella that his chronic hernia had begun to trouble him and as a result he would be changing jobs and moving to Kingston. Norval never really knew his son because of the white upper class’ disdain for interracial relationships. As a youth, Bob Marley was often the object of bitter ridicule by both white and black Jamaicans for his mixed heritage.
Marley started his musical experimentation in ska and gravitated towards reggae as the music evolved, playing, teaching and singing for a long period in the 1970s and 1980s. Marley is perhaps best-known for work with his reggae group ‘The Wailers’, which included two other celebrated reggae musicians, Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh. Livingstone and Tosh later left the group and went on to become successful solo artists.
Much of Marley’s early work was produced by Coxsone Dodd at Studio One. That relationship later deteriorated due to financial pressure, and in the early 1970s he produced what is believed by many to be his finest work with Lee Perry. This pair also split apart, this time over the assignment of recording rights. They did work together again in London, though, and remained friends until Marley’s death.
Marley’s work was largely responsible for the mainstream cultural acceptance of reggae music outside of Jamaica. He signed to Chris Blackwell’s Island Records label in 1971, at the time a highly influential and innovative label. Island Records boasted a retinue of successful and diverse artists including Genesis, John Martyn and Nick Drake. Though many people believe that Blackwell interfered with what Marley wanted to do with his own music, truth is that the knowledge this producer brought to the scene was critical in Marley’s wish to bring reggae to the world.
Marley was well known for his devotion to the Rastafarian religion. It was his wife Rita who first inspired him in his faith, and he then received teachings from Mortimer Planner. He served as a de facto missionary for the faith (his actions and lyrics suggest that this was intentional) and brought it to global attention. Through his music he preached brotherhood and peace for all of mankind. Towards the end of his life he was also baptised into the Ethiopian Orthodox Church with the name Berhane Selassie.
As a Rasta, Bob Marley was a great defender of cannabis which he used as a sacrament. On the cover of Catch a Fire he is seen smoking a big spliff, and the spiritual use of cannabis is mentioned in many of his songs.
In 1976, just two days before a scheduled free concert that Marley and the then Jamaican PM Michael Manley had organized, Marley, his wife Rita and manager Don Taylor, were shot inside the star’s 56 Hope Road home. Marley received minor injuries in the arm and chest. Don Taylor took most of the bullets in his legs and torso as he accidentally walked in the line of fire. He was registered in serious condition after he was rushed to the hospital but fully recovered later. Rita also recovered of the head wound she received that night. It is generally believed that this shooting was politically motivated. Jamaican politics being somewhat violent at the time, especially when close to elections time as it was then. The concert was seen as being in support of the progressive prime minister of Jamaica, Michael Manley. It is widely held that he was shot by supporters of the conservative political party of Jamaica, the Jamaica Labour Party. However, there is little evidence to support this. Though the police never caught the gunmen, Marley devotees later ‘caught up’ with them on the streets of Kingston.