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Marley, Bob (1945–1981)

Marley, Bob (1945–1981)

Bob Marley (born Robert Nesta Marley) is often credited with popularizing Jamaican reggae music around the world. Born on February 6, 1945, in the country town of Saint Ann to a white father and a black mother, Marley moved with his mother, after his father's death, to Jamaica's capital city of Kingston. By the age of fifteen he recorded Judge Not, his first record in the ska style (a precursor to reggae), under the name Robert Marley. In 1963 he formed a trio called the Wailers with friends Peter Tosh (born Peter McIntosh) and Bunny Wailer (born Neville Livingston), each of whom would later become famous in his own right. That same year they recorded their first big hit, "Simmer Down." Their career mirrored the changes in Jamaican music throughout the 1960s, moving through musical styles known as rude boy and rock steady to reggae (written in common time with an accent on the offbeat and in general harmonically simple). Throughout their career, the Wailers collaborated with famous reggae producers such as Leslie Kong and Lee "Scratch" Perry. In 1971 they recorded their most successful album, Trenchtown Rock. But by 1974 tensions among the three led to a breakup of the original group.

Marley continued without Tosh and Wailer as the head of a new group renamed Bob Marley and the Wailers. He built upon the Wailers' old sound, adding female vocals supplied by his wife, Rita, and electric guitars that appealed to the rock and roll audience.

He became known in this period for the political messages in his music, especially in his 1979 album Survival and his subsequent release Uprising (1980). Through his fame he also spread knowledge of the Rastafarian faith, which he followed. After refusing treatment for cancer because of his religious beliefs, Marley died on May 11, 1981. He was awarded the Jamaican Order of Merit while on his deathbed. Following his death, a compilation of his hits, Legend (1984), became the best-selling reggae album of all time. In 1994 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and in 2001 he was honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

See alsoMusic: Popular Music and Dance; Rastafarians.


Farley, Christopher John. Before the Legend: The Rise of Bob Marley. New York: Amistad, 2006.

Frith, Simon, Will Straw, and John Street, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Pop and Rock. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

White, Timothy. Catch a Fire: The Life of Bob Marley, revised and enlarged edition. New York: Henry Holt, 2006.

                                           Emily Berquist

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