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In the village of Nine Mile in Saint Ann Parish, Jamaica on February 6 1945, Nesta Robert Marley was born to parents Norval Sinclair Marley, a white Jamaican of English heritage, and Cedella Booker, an Afro-Jamaican. Throughout his life, Nesta Robert Marley faced questions about his mixed identity but because of his beliefs, he acknowledged himself as a black African following the ideas of Pan-African leaders. He was deeply influence by artists Marcus Garvey and Haile Selassie. At 14 Marley dropped out of school to make music. He first started playing with Neville "Bunny" Livingston a.k.a Bunny Wailer and Joe Higgs, a local singer and devoted Rastafarian. During one of their jam sessions, Marley became acquainted with Peter McIntosh known locally as Peter Tosh. Marley’s first singles "Judge Not” and "One Cup of Coffee" were recorded in 1962 and released on the “Beverley's label” under the alias Bobby Martell, but received little attention.
In 1963 Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh, Junior Braithwaite, Beverley Kelso, and Cherry Smith formed a ska and rock steady group. They originally called themselves "The Teenagers" but then changed their name to “The Wailing Rudeboys", then to "The Wailing Wailers" and finally decided "The Wailers." In 1965 their debut album, “The Wailing Wailers” was released which included "One Love," one of Marley’s best-known tracks. By 1966 the group had downsized leaving only the original members Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer, and Peter Tosh who teamed up with Lee "Scratch" Perry and his studio band, The “Upsetters” for less than a year recording what is considered by many to be "The Wailers" best work. At that time Marley made an effort to make his sound more appealing to the greater public by recording demos and re-cuttings a number of old songs with “JAD Records.” In 1968, Marley recorded a 24-minute tape with Jimmy Norman, Johnny Nash's songwriter, and others with more of a pop than reggae style and sound. In December 1970 “Soul Rebels,” was released in the UK by Trojan Records and has since been re-released several times. “Soul Revolution” produced by Lee "Scratch" Perry and Bob Marley was released in 1971, followed by “The Best of the Wailers” released in August 1971, recorded in 1969-70, and despite its title is not a compilation album.
In 1972 the Wailers sign a bad deal with “CBS Records,” and were stranded, and broke in London where they turn to Chris Blackwell, founder and producer of “Island Records” and ask him to finance a new single. Keen on filling the void left by Jimmy Cliff, Blackwell asked for a full album. Back in Kingston the Wailers worked on and delivered the album “Catch A Fire.” “Catch A Fire” was released worldwide in April 1973 initially selling 14,000 copies its new reggae sound created by Blackwell by restructuring Marley’s mixes giving it a more a soothing type feel which was not appreciated by many Jamaicans. On the contrary “Burnin’” released in 1973 found fans in both reggae and rock audiences. “Burnin’” opens with "Get Up, Stand Up". A cover of "I Shot the Sheriff" from this album is recorded by Eric Clapton making it a huge American hit helping Marley improve his international status. In 2003, the album was ranked number 319 on “Rolling Stone” magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. At that time, the Wailers were planned to open for 17 shows but were fired after only four due to their popularity outshining the main acts they were opening for. In 1974, the group breaks up for reasons shrouded in mystery.
Marley continued to record as "Bob Marley & The Wailers" with a new backing band consisting of Carlton and Aston "Family Man," Junior Marvin, Al Anderson, Tyrone Downie, Earl "Wya" Lindo, and Alvin "Seeco" Patterson. The "I Threes", consisting of Judy Mowatt, Marcia Griffiths, and Marley's wife, Rita, provided backing vocals.
Marley’s first international breakthrough comes with "No Woman, No Cry", from the “Natty Dread” album, released in 1974. His next album “Rastaman Vibration” was released in 1976 and spent four weeks on the “Billboard Hot 100”. In 1976, Marley performed at a free concert organized by Jamaican Prime minister Michael Manley with the intent to calm down two opposing political groups. During a self-imposed exile in England Marley recorded “Exodus” and “Kaya.” The former included singles: "Exodus", "Waiting in Vain", "Jamming", and "One Love" and remained on the British charts for 56 weeks. In 1978, Marley participated in another political concert the “One Love Peace Concert”. The same year “Babylon By Bus”, a live album with 13 songs was released. Another three live albums, “Live!”, “Talkin’ Blues” and “Live at the Roxy”, have also been released. These albums, especially the track “Jamming” from “Babylon By Bus” managed to capture the intensity of Marley’s live performances.
“Survival” an album in which Marley’s strong political beliefs are projected was released in 1979. His support for the Africans is also reflected in the tracks "Zimbabwe", "Africa Unite", "Wake Up and Live", and "Survival". He also shows his opposition to South African Apartheid by appearing at the “Amandla Festival in Boston” in July 1979, this conviction was also evident in his song “War”, in 1976. Marley commemorates the struggles of blacks and Africans against oppression from the West in many of his tracks such as "Black Survivor", "Babylon System", and "Blackman Redemption." He also urges for the return of all black people to Africa in “Zion”. In April 1980, Marley performed at the celebration of Zimbabwe’s Independence Day. “Uprising” was Marley’s final studio album released in 1980 and included "Forever Loving Jah" and “Redemption Song” which is considered to be about Marley accepting the fact he was going to die, having been diagnosed with cancer a few years earlier.
At this time, the Band did a major tour of Europe where they performed for a thousand people in Milan, their biggest concert. In the US, Marley performed two shows at Madison Square Garden as part of the “Uprising Tour” which was cancelled due to the artists deteriorating health. After his death “Confrontation,” an album consisting of unreleased material and remixes of tracks that were only available in Jamaica prior to his death was released in 1983. The compilation album “Legend” was released three years after his death and was classified ten times “Platinum” in the US and sold 25 million copies worldwide. In 2001, he was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and the documentary about his life, “Rebel Music,” won various awards at the Grammys.
Bob Marley was a lot more than just an artist. He was a symbol for all those fighting for freedom, for those standing up for themselves and for those struggling against prejudice and oppression. As the third world’s first superstar, his memory will always be cherished and his message will be carried on for years to come.