We remember the brilliant and evocative music Bob Marley gave the world; music that stretches back over nearly two decades and still remains timeless and universal. Marley has been called “the first Third World superstar,” “Rasta Prophet,” “visionary,” and” “revolutionary artist.” These accolades were not mere hyperbole. Marley was one of the most charismatic and challenging performers of our time.
Bob Marley’s career stretched back over twenty years. During that time Marley’s growing style encompassed every aspect in the rise of Jamaican music, from ska to contemporary reggae. That growth was well reflected in the maturity of the Wailers’ music.
Bob’s first recording attempts came at the beginning of the Sixties. His first two tunes, cut as a solo artist, meant nothing in commercial terms and it wasn’t until 1964, as a founding member of a group called the Wailing Wailers, that Bob first hit the Jamaican charts.
The record was “Simmer Down,” and over the next few years the Wailing Wailers — Bob, Peter Mclntosh and Bunny Livingston, the nucleus of the group — put out some 30 sides that properly established them as one of the hottest groups in Jamaica. Mclntosh later shortened his surname to Tosh while Livingston is now called Bunny Wailer.
Despite their popularity, the economics of keeping the group together proved too much and the two other members, Junior Braithwaite and Beverley Kelso, left the group. At the same time Bob joined his mother in the United States. This marked the end of the Wailing Wailers, Chapter One.
Marley’s stay in America was short-lived, however, and he returned to Jamaica to join up again with Peter and Bunny. By the end of the Sixties, with the legendary reggae producer Lee “Scratch” Perry at the mixing desk, The Wailers were again back at the top in Jamaica. The combination of the Wailers and Perry resulted in some of the finest music the band ever made. Tracks like “Soul Rebel,” “Duppy Conquerer,” “400 Years,” and “Small Axe” were not only classics, but they defined the future direction of reggae.
In 1979 the Survival LP was released. A European tour came the following year: the band broke festival records throughout the continent, including a 100,000 capacity show in Milan. Bob Marley & the Wailers were now the most important band on the road that year and the new Uprising album hit every chart in Europe. It was a period of maximum optimism and plans were being made for an American tour, an opening slot with Stevie Wonder for the following winter.
At the end of the European tour, Bob Marley & The Wailers went to America. Bob played two shows at Madison Square Garden but, immediately afterwards he was seriously ill. Cancer was diagnosed.
Marley fought the disease for eight months. The battle, however, proved to be too much. He died in a Miami Hospital on May 11,1981.
A month before the end Bob was awarded Jamaica’s Order of Merit, the nations’ third highest honor, in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the country’s culture.
On Thursday, May 23,1981, the Honorable Robert Nesta Marley was given an official funeral by the people of Jamaica. Following the funeral — attended by both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition — Bob’s body was taken to his birthplace where it now rests in a mausoleum. Bob Marley was 36 years old. His legend lives on.