On May 11, 1981, the world was shocked to learn about the death of legendary Reggae musician Robert Nesta Marley, more commonly known as Bob Marley. Known for his distinctive voice, songwriting style, and Rastafari beliefs, Marley became one of the world’s best-selling artists of all time.
Robert Nesta Marley was born on February 6, 1945, on his grandfather’s farm in Jamaica. Although his name was originally Nesta Robert Marley, a Jamaican passport official accidentally reversed his first and middle names, hence changing his official name.
Marley spent much of his early life at his grandfather’s farm. At the age of 10, Marley’s father died of a heart attack. Two years later, he moved to Kingston to reunite with his mother, who lived in the city’s west-side ghetto, filled with disease, violence, and harsh living conditions. During this time, Marley started to develop his musical prowess while drawing inspiration for many of his philosophical and political beliefs that still affect the world today.
At the age of 14, he dropped out of school. He started to sing and create musical instruments out of various materials. By combining Ska and Rhythm and Blues, he began to create his distinctive style of Reggae music.
In 1962, he recorded his first songs: “Judge Not,” “One Cup of Coffee,” “Do You Still Love Me?” and “Terror.” The following year, he started recording with Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh, Junior Braithwaite, Beverley Kelso, and Cherry Smith, the original members of The Wailers. Their single, “Simmer Down,” because a number one hit in Jamaica and sold 70,000 copies. In 1966, Marley married Rita Anderson, with whom he re-recorded some old singles with Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer between 1968 and 1972. The couple lived in Delaware near Marley’s mother for a while.
During the 1960s, Marley became interested in Rastafari beliefs. After returning to Jamaica from Delaware, Marley formally converted to Rastafari and began to grow dreadlocks. The Rastafari prohibition against cutting hair is based on the biblical Samson.
After signing to CBS Records in 1972, Marley went on a tour throughout the United Kingdom with Johnny Nash. During that time, the reggae musician became acquainted with Island Records, one of the largest record producers in the word. The label gave The Wailers an advance of £ 4,000 to record an album, the first time a Reggae band had access to a state-of-the-art recording studio and had been given the same respect as their rock ‘n’ roll counterparts. The Wailers became known throughout the world and ultimately broke up in 1974.
Upon moving to England, Marley pursued a solo career. In 1977, he released his first album as a solo artist, “Exodus.” This propelled him into worldwide stardom and helped the Jamaican artist to become one of the best-selling musicians of all time. Exodus stayed on the British charts for over a year and included four hit singles in the U.K., including “Exodus,” “Waiting in Vain,” “Jamming,” and “One Love.” In 1978, he released “Kaya,” which included the hits “Is This Love” and “Satisfy My Soul.”
In 1977, Marley was diagnosed with malignant melanoma, which was found underneath a toe nail. Due to his religious beliefs, he decided to not amputate his toe, and instead, a skin graft from his thigh was utilized to replace the nail and nail bed on his foot. Despite his illness, he continued performing and was in the process of scheduling a world tour in 1980. His last concert took place on September 23, 1980 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Marley’s health worsened and he sought a controversial type of treatment at the Bavarian clinic of Josef Issels. While flying home to Jamaica from Germany, eight months later, his vital functions deteriorated and he was taken to a hospital in Miami, Florida. His cancer had spread to his lungs and brain, which led to his death on May 11, 1981. His final words to his son were “Money can’t buy life.”
Marley’s music and beliefs left a lasting impact on the world. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, has received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and was awarded the Jamaican Order of Merit.