Robert Nesta Marley was a Jamaican singer-songwriter, musician and guitarist who achieved international fame and acclaim, blending mostly reggae, ska and rocksteady in his compositions. He was born on the 6th of February 1945 on the farm of his maternal grandfather in Nine Mile, Saint Ann Parish, Jamaica, to Norval Sinclair Marley and Cedella Booker. Norval Marley was a white Jamaican originally from Sussex, England. At the time of his marriage to Cedella Booker, an Afro-Jamaican then 18 years old, he was employed as a plantation overseer. Though Bob Marley was named Nesta Robert Marley, a Jamaican passport official would later reverse his first and middle names. Norval provided financial support for his wife and child but seldom saw them as he was often away. In 1955, when Bob Marley was 10 years old, his father died of a heart attack at the age of 70.
Marley and Neville Livingston (later known as Bunny Wailer) had been childhood friends in Nine Mile. They had started to play music together while at Stepney Primary and Junior High School. Marley left Nine Mile with his mother when he was 12 and moved to Trenchtown, Kingston. Cedella Booker and Thadeus Livingston (Bunny Wailer’s father) had a daughter together whom they named Claudette Pearl, who was a younger sister to both Bob and Bunny. Now that Marley and Livingston were living together in the same house in Trenchtown, their musical explorations deepened to include the latest R&B from American radio stations whose broadcasts reached Jamaica. Marley soon found himself in a vocal group with Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh, Beverley Kelso and Junior Braithwaite. Marley and the others didn’t play any instruments at this time, and were more interested in being a vocal harmony group. Later Marley began to learn how to play the guitar—which became the bedrock that would later allow him construct some of the biggest-selling reggae songs in the history of the genre.
Marley was a Pan-Africanist, and believed in the unity of African people worldwide. His beliefs in Pan-Africanism were rooted in his Rastafari religious beliefs. Bob Marley was an ardent proponent of Rastafari and he was substantially inspired by Marcus Garvey, and had anti-imperialist and pan-Africanist themes in many of his songs. Starting out in 1963 with the group The Wailers, he forged a distinctive songwriting and vocal style that would later resonate with audiences worldwide. After the Wailers disbanded in 1974, Marley pursued a solo career upon his relocation to England that culminated in the release of the album Exodus in 1977, which established his worldwide reputation and produced his status as one of the world’s best-selling artists of all time, with sales of more than 75 million records. Exodus stayed on the British album charts for fifty-six consecutive weeks. It included four UK hit singles: “Exodus”, “Waiting in Vain”, “Jamming”, and “One Love”. In 1978, he released the album Kaya, which included the hit singles “Is This Love” and “Satisfy My Soul”.
In July 1977, Marley was found to have a type of malignant melanoma under the nail of a toe. Marley turned down his doctors’ advice to have his toe amputated, citing his religious beliefs, and instead the nail and nail bed were removed and a skin graft taken from his thigh to cover the area. Despite his illness, he continued touring and was in the process of scheduling a world tour in 1980. Shortly afterwards, Marley’s health deteriorated as the cancer had spread throughout his body. Bob Marley died on 11 May 1981 at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Miami (now University of Miami Hospital). His final words to his son Ziggy were “Money can’t buy life.” He was only 36 years old.
On 21 May 1981, Jamaican Prime Minister Edward Seaga delivered the final funeral eulogy to Marley, declaring:
“His voice was an omnipresent cry in our electronic world. His sharp features, majestic looks, and prancing style a vivid etching on the landscape of our minds. Bob Marley was never seen. He was an experience which left an indelible imprint with each encounter. Such a man cannot be erased from the mind. He is part of the collective consciousness of the nation.”