Bob Marley’s Life

Summary of The Reggae Legend’s Life

Robert Nesta Marley, OM (Order of Merit),

(February 6, 1945 – May 11, 1981) better known as Bob Marley, was a Jamaican singer, guitarist, songwriter and activist.

He is the most widely known reggae musician of all time, famous for popularizing the genre outside of Jamaica. Much of his work deals with the struggles of the impoverished and/or powerless.

Bob Marley is also renowned for the way in which he spread faith through his music.

He was the husband of Rita Anderson Marley, who regularly performed with Bob Marley as a member of his back-up singers the I Threes. 

Political and religious convictions

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. Bob Marley has been called the Charles Wesley of the Rastafari movement for the way in which he spread the faith through his music.

Marley was known to have connections with the Twelve Tribes of Israel sect of Rastafari, and he expressed this with a biblical quotation about Joseph, son of Jacob, (whom the Twelve tribes believe is Aquarius) on the album cover of Rastaman Vibration. Marley also makes many references to Judah and his tribe, in reference to Haile Selassie, God incarnate of the Rastafarians.


As a Rasta, Bob Marley was a great defender of the use of cannabis as a sacrament. On the cover of Catch a Fire he is seen smoking a large spliff (marijuana cigarette), and the spiritual use of cannabis is mentioned in many of his songs.

Towards the end of his life he was also baptized into the Ethiopian Orthodox Church with the name Berhane Selassie. 

Early life 

Bob Marley was born on February 6, 1945 in Nine Miles, Saint Ann, Jamaica.

His father, Norval Marley, was born in Jamaica in 1895 to a family originally from Sussex, England. He had been a soldier before becoming a plantation overseer, the job he held when he met Bob’s mother, 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.

Because Norval’s affluent English family disdained mixed race relationships, he never got to

know his son and saw him only once. Bob was raised by his mother, who moved them to Kingston’s Trench Town slum in the mid-1950s.

The Bob Marley House in Nine Mile is a home that he shared with his mother during his youth


Early career 


The Wailers in the middle of the 1960s. From right to left  : Bunny Wailer, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh

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’s early music career was with the ska, rocksteady and reggae group “The Wailers”, which included two other celebrated reggae musicians, Bunny Livingston (Bunny Wailer) and Peter McIntosh (Peter Tosh), both who later left the group and went on to become successful solo artists. After The Wailers broke up in 1974, Marley went on with “Bob Marley & The Wailers” with the I Threes as backing vocalists.

Today, Bob Marley, The Wailers, and Bob Marley & the Wailers are often used to refer to recordings actually made by separate entities.

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 “Scratch” 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 Free, John Martyn and Nick Drake. Though many people believe that Blackwell interfered with what Marley wanted to do with his own music, others think that the knowledge this producer brought to the scene was critical in Marley’s wish to bring reggae to the world. It was his 1975 hit No Woman, No Cry that first gained him fame on a wider level.

Shot in election violence


In 1976, just two days before a scheduled free concert that Marley and Jamaican PM Michael Manley had organized in the run up to the general election, 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 in a serious condition after he

was rushed to the hospital, but fully recovered later. Rita also recovered from the shot to the head she received that night.

It is generally believed that the shooting was politically motivated, due to Jamaican politics being somewhat violent at the time, especially so close to election day. 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 Labor Party. However, there is little evidence to support this. Though the police never caught the gunmen, Marley devotees claimed to have later “caught up” with them on the streets of Kingston.

Two years later, Marley hosted the One Love Peace Concert in Kingston and joined Prime Minister Michael Manley of the PNP and opposition leader Edward Seaga on stage in a handshake that signaled a new era of peace.

Later career


Bob Marley live in concert at the Hallenstadion in Zurich, Switzerland on May 30, 1980 Rastaman Vibration made big waves in the US charts on its release. The success got reggae and Marley more mileage besides a recognition for his peace efforts. “War” brought the message of Haile Selassie loud and clear to the young generation.

Bob Marley left Jamaica at the end of 1976, and went to England, where he recorded both Exodus and Kaya. Survival followed in 1979. In early 1980 he was invited to perform at the Zimbabwe Independence Day celebrations on April 17, 1980. His last concert was held at the Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh on September 23, 1980.


Bob Marley & The Wailers 

Battle with cancer


In July 1977, Marley was found to have a wound on his right big toe, which he thought was from a football injury. The wound would not completely heal, and his toenail later fell off during a soccer game. It was then that the correct diagnosis was made. Marley actually had a form of skin cancer, malignant melanoma, which grew under his toenail.

Marley was advised to get his toe amputated, but he refused because of his Rastafarian beliefs that the body must be whole, that to have an amputation would be a sin, that his faith would ensure him living forever regardless of the cancer and because he saw medical doctors as samfai, confidence men who cheat the gullible by pretending to have the power of witchcraft. He also was concerned about the impact the operation would have on his dancing; amputation would profoundly affect his career at a time when greater success was close at hand. Still, Marley based this refusal on his Rastafarian beliefs, saying, “Rasta no abide amputation. I don’t allow a mon ta be dismantled.” (Catch a Fire, Timothy White) He did have surgery to try to excise the cancer cells. The cancer was kept secret from the wider public.

Collapse and treatment 

The cancer spread to his brain, his lungs and his stomach. During the Uprising Tour in the fall of 1980, while trying to break into the US market, he collapsed while jogging in NYC’s Central Park. This was after two shows at Madison Square Garden. The illness made him unable to continue with the tour. Marley sought help, and decided to go to Munich in order to receive treatment from controversial cancer specialist Josef Issels for several months, but it was to no avail.



Months before his death he was baptized into the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and took the name Berhane Selassie (meaning the Light of the Holy Trinity in Amharic). Then a month before his death, he was awarded the Jamaican Order of Merit.

He wanted to spend his final days in Jamaica but he became too ill on the flight home from Germany and had to land in Miami. He died at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Miami, Florida on May 11, 1981.

His funeral in Jamaica was a dignified affair with combined elements of Ethiopian Orthodoxy and Rastafari.

He is buried in a crypt at Nine Miles, near his birthplace, with his Gibson guitar, a bud of marijuana and a Bible.

Bob Marley’s Funeral



His Children

Bob Marley had 13 children, three with his wife Rita. His children are, in order of birth

  1. Imani (born May 22, 1963)
  2. Sharon, born November 23, 1964, to Rita by another man before she married Bob, and adopted by Bob.
  3. Cedella, born August 23, 1967, to Rita.
  4. David “Ziggy”, born October 17, 1968, to Rita.
  5. Stephen, born April 20, 1972, to Rita.
  6. Rohan, born May 19, 1972, to Janet Hunt. Married to Lauryn Hill.
  7. Robert “Robbie”, born 1972, to Pat Williams.
  8. Stephanie, born 1974?, to Rita by another man, and adopted by Bob.
  9. Karen, born 1973, to Janet Bowen.
  10. Julian, born June 4, 1975, to Lucy Pounder.
  11. Ky-Mani, born February 26, 1976, to Anita Belnavis.
  12. Damian “Jr. Gong”, born July 21, 1978, to Cindy Breakspeare.
  13. Makeda, born May 30, 1981, to Yvette Crichton.


Posthumous reputation 

Bob Marley’s music and legend have gone from strength to strength in the years since his early death and continue to produce a huge stream of revenue for his estate, while also bringing him a nearly mythic status in music history. He remains enormously popular and well known all over the world, and particularly so in Africa. In 1993, Marley was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Time magazine chose Marley and the Wailers’ album “Exodus” as the greatest album of the 20th century

Controversy over burial place 

In January 2005, it was reported that Rita Marley was planning to have her late husband’s remains

Bob Marley Grave in Nine Miles, Jamaica

exhumed and reburied in Shashamane, Ethiopia. In announcing the decision to move Marley’s remains to Ethiopia, Rita Marley said: “Bob’s whole life is about Africa, it is not Jamaica.” There was a great deal of resistance to this proposal in Jamaica.

The birthday celebrations for what would have been his 60th birthday on February 6th 2005 were celebrated in Shashamane for the first time, having previously always been held in Jamaica. Later that year his son Damian definitely denied the reburial of his father’s remains in Ethiopia in an interview.



Awards and honors


     The Jamaican Order of Merit

The Jamaican Order of Merit


  • 1976 – Band of the Year (Rolling Stone)
  • June 1978 – Awarded the Peace Medal of the Third World from the United Nations
  • February 1981 – Awarded Jamaica’s third highest honor, the Jamaican Order of Merit
  • 1999 – Album of the Century (Time Magazine) for Exodus)
  • February 2001 – A star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
  • February 2001 – Awarded Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award


Hollywood Walk of Fame

A star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame


Posthumous reputation

Awards Remembering Bob-Marley

Bob Marley’s music and legend have gone from strength to strength in the years since his early death and continue to produce a huge stream of revenue for his estate, while also bringing him a nearly mythic status in music history. He remains enormously popular and well known all over the world, and particularly so in Africa. In 1993, Marley was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Time magazine chose Marley and the Wailers’ album “Exodus” as the greatest album of the 20th century.



Rita Marley receives ICS Garvey Award In Washington DC






Studio One recordings

  • The Wailing Wailers (1966)


Beverly’s recordings

  • The Best of the Wailers (1970)


Upsetter recordings

(marketed by Trojan Records) 

  • Soul Rebels (1970)
  • Soul Revolution (1971)
  • Soul Revolution Part II (1971)
  • African Herbsman (1973)
  • Rasta Revolution (1974)

Trojan is still releasing different compilations with the same songs recorded between 1969 and 1971. There are many other compilations available by Trojan, such as In the Beginning (1983), Roots of a Legend (1997) and Trenchtown Rock: The Anthology (2002). 

Island/Tuff Gong

Studio recordings

  • Catch a Fire (1973)
  • Burnin’ (1973)
  • Natty Dread (1974)
  • Rastaman Vibration (1976)
  • Exodus (1977)
  • Kaya (1978)
  • Survival (1979)
  • Uprising (1980)
  • Confrontation (1983) – posthumous


Live recordings

  • Live! (1975) – Recorded at the Lyceum Theatre, London, July 1975
  • Babylon by Bus (1978) – Most of the album recorded in Europe, 1978
  • Talkin’ Blues (1991) – Most of the album recorded at the Record Plant, San Francisco, 1973
  • Live at the Roxy (2003) – Recorded at the Roxy, Hollywood, California, May 1976



  • Legend (1984)
  • Reggae Greats (1984)
  • Rebel Music (1986)
  • Songs of Freedom (1992)
  • Natural Mystic: The Legend Lives On (1995)
  • One Love: The Very Best of Bob Marley & The Wailers (2001)
  • Gold (2005)
  • Africa Unite: The Singles Collection (2005)


Heartbeat Records

(Compilations of material recorded at Studio One 1963–1966)

  • One Love at Studio One (1991) – double CD
  • Simmer Down at Studio One (1994) – same as disc one of One Love
  • Wailing Wailers at Studio One (1994) – same as disc two of One Love
  • The Toughest (1996) – collection of Peter Tosh’s Studio One recordings
  • Destiny: Rare Ska Sides from Studio One (1999)
  • Wailers and Friends (1999)
  • Climb the Ladder (2000)
  • Greatest Hits at Studio One (2003)


JAD/Universal Records

(Compilations of material recorded 1966–1971) 

  • Feel Alright (2004)
  • Best of the Wailers (2004)
  • Soul Rebels (2004)
  • Soul Revolution Part II (2004)
  • Upsetter Revolution Rhythm (2004)
  • Universal Masters Collection (2004)
  • Original Cuts (2004)
  • 127 King Street (2004)
  • Ammunition Dub Collection (2004)
  • Wail’N Soul’M Singles Selecta (2005)
  • Grooving Kingston 12 (2004) – 3-CD boxset
  • Fy-Ah, Fy-Ah (2004) – 3-CD boxset
  • Man to Man (2005, to be released) – 4-CD boxset


Official albums containing remixes

  • Chances Are (1981) (WEA)
  • Soul Almighty: The Formative Years Vol.1 (1996) (JAD)
  • Black Progress: The Formative Years Vol.2 (1997) (JAD)
  • Dreams Of Freedom: Ambient Translations in Dub (1997) (Island)
  • Chant Down Babylon (1999) (Island)
  • Shakedown: Marley Remix (2001) (JAD)