Bob Marley was born Robert Nesta Marley on Feb. 6, 1945 in Saint Ann, Jamaica. His father, Norval Sinclair Marley, was a white Englishman and his mother, Cedelia Booker, was a black Jamaican. Bob Marley died of cancer in Miami, FL on May 11, 1981. Marley had 12 children, four by his wife Rita, and was a devout Rastafarian.
Bob Marley's father died when he was 10 years old, and his mother moved with him to Kingston's Trenchtown neighborhood after his death. As a young teen, he befriended Bunny Wailer, and they learned to play music together. At 14, Marley dropped out of school to learn the welding trade, and spent his spare time jamming with Bunny Wailer and ska musician Joe Higgs.
Bob Marley's Early Recordings and the Beginnings of the Wailers:
Bob Marley recorded his first two singles in 1962, but neither garnered much interest at the time. In 1963, he began a ska band with Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh that was originally called "The Teenagers". Later it became "The Wailing Rudeboys", then "The Wailing Wailers", and finally just "The Wailers". Their early Studio One hits, which were recorded in the popular rocksteady style, included "Simmer Down" (1964) and "Soul Rebel" (1965), both penned by Marley.
Bob Marley Converts To Rastafarianism:
Marley married Rita Anderson in 1966, and spent a few months living in Delaware with his mother. When Marley returned to Jamaica, he began practicing the Rastafarian faith, and began growing his signature dreadlocks. As a devout Rasta, Marley partook in the ritual usage of ganja (marijuana).
The Wailers' 1974 album Burnin' contained "I Shot The Sheriff" and "Get Up, Stand Up", both of which gathered cult followings in both the US and Europe. The same year, however, the Wailers broke up to pursue solo careers. At this point, Marley had made the full transition from ska and rocksteady to reggae.
Bob Marley & the Wailers:
Bob Marley continued to tour and record as "Bob Marley & the Wailers", though he was the only original Wailer in the group. In 1975, "No Woman, No Cry" became Bob Marley's true breakthrough hit song, and his subsequent album Rastaman Vibration became a Billboard Top 10 Album.
Bob Marley's Political and Religious Activism:
Bob Marley spent much of the late 1970s trying to promote peace and cultural understanding within Jamaica, despite being shot (along with his wife and manager, who also survived) before a peace concert. He also acted as a willing cultural ambassador for the Jamaican people and the Rastafarian religion. He holds nearly godlike status among many Jamaicans and Rastafarians worldwide.
Bob Marley's Death:
In 1977, Bob Marley found a wound on his foot, which he believed to be a soccer injury, but was later discovered to be malignant melanoma. Doctors recommended an amputation of his toe, but he refused for religious reasons. The cancer eventually spread. When he finally decided to get medical help (in 1980), the cancer had become terminal. He wanted to die in Jamaica, but could not withstand the flight home, and died in Miami. His final recording, at Pittsburgh's Stanley Theatre, was recorded and released for posterity as Bob Marley and the Wailers Live Forever.
Learn more about Bob Marley's death.
Bob Marley's Legacy:
Bob Marley is revered the world over, both as the defining figure of Jamaican music and as a spiritual leader. His wife Rita carries on his work as she sees fit, and his sons Damian "Jr. Gong", Julian, Ziggy, Stephen, Ky-Mani, as well as his daughters, Cedelia and Sharon, carry on his musical legacy (the other siblings do not play music professionally).
Honors and Awards Bestowed Upon Bob Marley:
Among the awards and honors that have been given to Bob Marley are a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. His songs and albums have also won numerous honors, such as Time Magazine's Album of the Century (for Exodus) and BBC's Song of the Millenium for "One Love".