Singer, musician, songwriter. Born on February 6, 1945, in Jamaica. Bob Marley helped introduce reggae music to the world and remains one of its most beloved artists to this day. The son of a black teenage mother and much older, later absent white father, he spent his early years in the rural village known as Nine Miles in the parish of St. Ann.
One of his childhood friends in St. Ann was Neville “Bunny” O’Riley Livingston. Attending the same school, the two shared a love of music. Bunny inspired Bob to learn to play the guitar. Later Livingston’s father and Marley’s mother became involved, and they all lived together for a time in Kingston, according to Christopher John Farley’s Before the Legend: The Rise of Bob Marley.
Arriving in Kingston in the late 1950s, Marley lived in Trench Town, one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. He struggled in poverty, but he found inspiration in the music around him. Trench Town had a number of successful local performers and was considered the Motown of Jamaica. Sounds from the United States also drifted in over the radio and through jukeboxes. Marley liked such artists as Ray Charles, Elvis Presley, Fats Domino, and the Drifters.
Marley and Livingston devoted much of their time to music. Under the guidance of Joe Higgs, Marley worked on improving his singing abilities. He met another student of Higgs, Peter McIntosh (later Peter Tosh) who would play an important role in Marley’s career.
A local record producer, Leslie Kong, liked Marley’s vocals and had him record a few singles, the first of which was “Judge Not” released in 1962. While he did not fare well as a solo artist, Marley found some success joining forces with his friends. In 1963, Marley, Livingston, and McIntosh formed the Wailing Wailers. Their first single, “Simmer Down,” went to the top of the Jamaican charts in January 1964. By this time, the group also included Junior Braithwaite, Beverly Kelso, and Cherry Smith.
The group became quite popular in Jamaica, but they had difficulty making it financially. Braithewaite, Kelso, and Smith left the group. The remaining members drifted a part for a time. Marley went to the United States where his mother was now living. However, before he left, he married Rita Anderson on February 10, 1966.
After eight months, Marley returned to Jamaica. He reunited with Livingston and McIntosh to form the Wailers. Around this time, Marley was exploring his spiritual side and developing a growing interest in the Rastafarian movement. Both religious and political, the Rastafarian movement started in Jamaica in 1930s and drew its beliefs from many sources, including Jamaican-born black nationalist Marcus Garvey, the Old Testament, and their African heritage and culture.
For a time in the late 1960s, Marley worked with pop singer Johnny Nash. Nash scored a hit with Marley’s song, “Stir It Up,” around the world. The Wailers also worked with producer Lee Perry during this era and some of their successful songs together included “Trench Town Rock,” “Soul Rebel,” and “Four Hundred Years.”
The Wailers added two new members in 1970 — Aston “Family Man” Barrett on bass and his brother Carlton “Carlie” Barrett on drums. The next year, Marley spent time with Johnny Nash in Sweden to work on a movie soundtrack.
The Wailers got their big break in 1972 when they landed a contract with Island Records, which was started by Chris Blackwell. For the first time, the group hit the studios to record a full album. The result was the critically acclaimed Catch a Fire. To support the record, the Wailers toured Britain and the United States in 1973. They performed as an opening act for Bruce Springsteen and for Sly & the Family Stone. That same year, the Wailers released their next album, Burnin, which featured the song “I Shot the Sheriff.” Rock legend Eric Clapton released a cover of the song in 1974, which became a number one hit in the United States.
Before the release of their next album, 1975’s Natty Dread, two of the three original Wailers left the group. McIntosh and Livingston decided to pursue solo careers as Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer respectively. The new album reflected some of the political tensions in Jamaica between the People’s National Party (PNP) and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). Violence sometimes erupted because of these conflicts. “Rebel Music (3 O’clock Road Block)” was inspired by Marley’s own experience of being stopped by the army late one night before the 1972 national elections. Furthermore, the song “Revolution” was interpreted by some as Marley’s endorsement for the PNP.
For their next tour, the remaining group was enhanced by the addition of I-Threes, a group of female vocalists was comprised of Marley’s wife Rita, Marcia Griffiths, and Judy Mowatt. Now called Bob Marley & the Wailers, the group toured extensively and helped increase reggae’s popularity abroad. In Britain, they scored their first top 40 hit with “No Woman No Cry” in 1975.