It’s been 39 years since Jamaica and the world said their final goodbye to the “king of reggae”, and still, to this day, Bob Marley is regarded as the most prolific, most successful and most influential reggae musician of all time.
Marley made timeless music, and built a legacy that has transcended generations and inspired all reggae artists that came after him.
Robert Nesta Marley got his start in music in Trench Town, Kingston, as part of the musical trio, “The Wailers”, alongside Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh. In 1964, the group had their first taste of local success when their single “Simmer Down” became the year’s number one hit song, selling an estimated 70,000 copies. By this time, Jamaica’s popular music scene was changing, from ska and rocksteady to a new style called reggae. With the backing of Jamaica’s biggest record label at the time, Island Records, The Wailers were pushed to the forefront of this new sound.
The Wailers’ first album for Island, “Catch a Fire”, was released worldwide in 1973, followed by “Burning” a year later. Both albums struck a chord with rock and roll fans worldwide and gained The Wailers international attention. That same year, however, the group disbanded.
Despite the break-up, Marley continued recording as “Bob Marley & The Wailers” with the “I Threes”, consisting of Judy Mowatt, Marcia Griffiths, and his wife, Rita, provided backing vocals. In 1975, Marley had his international hit as a solo artist, with “No Woman, No Cry”.
In December 1976, two days before the infamous “Smile Jamaica” concert, Marley and several others were assaulted by gunmen in Kingston. An injured Marley performed at the concert as planned but soon after, left Jamaica in a self-imposed exile. While living in London, he recorded arguably his best project while alive, “Exodus”. In 1978, Marley returned to Jamaica and performed at another political concert, the “One Love Peace Concert”.
Under the name Bob Marley and the Wailers, he released a total of 11 albums. His final studio album, “Uprising” was released in 1980.
Three years prior, in 1977, Marley was diagnosed with acral lentiginous melanoma; a type of skin cancer. He refused amputation and died as a result of the illness in 1981.
His greatest hits album, “Legend” was released in 1984, and subsequently became the best-selling reggae album of all-time. Over 30 years after its release, “Legend” still holds the distinction of being the second longest-charting album in the history of Billboard Magazine, behind Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side Of The Moon”. The album pushed Marley to the top of the charts and made him one of the best-selling music artists of all-time, with estimated sales of more than 75 million records worldwide.
Marley’s contributions to the world surpassed his musical career and had him a relevant global figure long after his death. While his name has become synonymous with reggae music, he is also remembered for his spirituality, for being one of the most influential Rastafarian figures, a dedicated fan of football and an advocate for marijuana and Pan-Africanism.
Around the world, “Marley” has become a household name. His children have dedicated themselves, in their respective careers, to the same level of excellence that was so out-rightly displayed by their father. His sons, Damian, Julian, Stephen, Ky-Mani and David “Ziggy” Marley are all accomplished entertainers, Rohan Marley is a former football player and successful entrepreneur, while his daughters, Cedella and Sharon are both singers, designers and entrepreneurs.