Bob Marley – The Legend
Bob Marley, the man, the music, the myth! The Honorable Robert Nesta Marley, OM (Order of Merit) was an International Reggae Artist and songwriter. Bob Marley, an accomplished musician, died on May 11, 1981. In 2004, twenty three (23) years after his passing, Bob Marley was ranked eleventh on the list of “The 100 Greatest Artist of All Time by Rolling Stone Magazine.” Bob’s life story reflects the incredible journey he traveled using the powerful message in his music as the vehicle to reach the world and inspire people everywhere. Since Bob Marley’s death, more than thirty four years ago, his image continues to grow in popularity and so has his music. However, the one question that people continue to ask is “How did Bob Marley Die?”
After Bob Marley’s death, he became Jamaica’s favorite Son; the pride and joy of his island home. Today, one of his title songs “One Love” is a beloved saying among Jamaicans and around the world. The song is also used as the anthem of The Jamaica Tourist Board promotional video. The song “represents hope, and how life ought to be – a magical fantasy for Jamaica and the rest of the world. Bob was hopeful that there would come a day when, race would be insignificant, and humanity would transcend all. A time when we can all say, “All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small… the Lord God, “Jah” made us all”.
The Love/ Hate Relationship
Bob Marley had a love hate relationship with both the high-society Jamaicans and the everyday Jamaicans. His Rastafarian Religion, culture and way of life – long dreads, weed/ganja smoking habits – was not widely embraced. The Rastafarian lifestyle was relatively new to the island on a wide scale and many Jamaicans resisted the non-Christian religion. Bob was viewed more as Jamaica’s prodigal son or the uncontrolled son.
They say with time comes healing. The message and the music were powerful. The message had a soothing effect. He appealed to the poor, the sufferers, as they were called, particularly those in Trench Town where Bob lived. They had a passionate love affair with him. His music inspired many and gave them hope, gave them a reason to “Get up stand up”, stand up for their rights as the lyrics states. Soon Jamaicans, like the rest of the world echoed the message loud and clear. As Bob Marley once said during an interview, “My life is only important if mi caan (I can) help plenty people.”
Bob Marley’s Music
Decades later, Bob’s music continues to help millions of people around the world. The message in Bob Marley’s music goes right to the heart and soul of not just Jamaicans but millions around the globe. Bob deep mystical fate as a Rastaman was what drove Bob to speak out against oppression. As Bob said, “Mi noh deh pon noh body side, mi noh deh pon the black mon side nor deh white mon side, mi deh pon God side (I’m not taking sides, I’m not on the black man nor the white man side. I’m on God side.) Even after Bob’s untimely death, his music continues to be inspirational to people of all color.
Bob Marley was the pioneer of reggae music. Many considered him a prophet because the message in his songs was so powerful; it seems that Bob could see the future. Bob lived at a time when people around the world needed some uplifting to deal with the troubles they faced such as racial division, oppression, inequality, tough economic times and more.
Bob Marley’s time was the right time. His voice became the voice of the everyday man and woman. He was indeed their strong voice. The world needed a voice of reasons to unite the people. Gone were some powerful advocates and Civil Rights leaders such as Marcus Garvey, (53), El-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz (Malcolm X) (40), and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (39). Ironically, they all died young, and Nelson Mandela of South Africa was imprisoned. These past leaders had a significant impact on the lives of millions of people around the world and Bob Marley and his music was helping to fill that void. What is coincidental about these past leaders and Bob Marley is that they all died after dedicating about 20 years of their lives to the people sharing the message of wisdom and providing hope.
Apartheid and oppression were strong in many African countries and other countries around the world. Bob Marley’s music gave millions of people the power and strength to fight and become liberated from mental and physical slavery. People connected his music with their lives, his words identified their struggles and his messages released them from captivity. Bob Marley was the master of his faith and his gift to the world was his primary purpose – “One Love” and down with Babylon (Oppressor) system.
Bob Marley’s Early Life
Bob Marley was born on February 6, 1945 in Nine Mile, St. Ann Jamaica. Bob was the son of Miss Cedella Malcolm and Mr. Norval Marley, also known as Captain Norval Marley. Cedella was a black Jamaican and his father was a white Englishman. Bob’s father played a minor role in his life. He grew up with his mother, Cedella in rural Jamaica. They later moved to Kingston at the age of 12, to Trench Town, a rough part of the inner city of Kingston, Concrete Jungle, as one of Bob Marley songs describes it.
While living in Trench Town, Bob met several singers and musicians but he connected with Neville Bunny Livingston and Peter Tosh. Together, the three men formed a group “The Wailers.” It was during that period Bob met Rita Anderson who later became his wife (Rita Marley). Over a period of time and after many hit songs, the group broke up. First Bunny Livingston left the group initially, followed by Peter Tosh to begin his solo career.
The Birth of Bob Marley and the Wailers
The group split created the perfect opportunity for the birth of Bob’s solo career with the Wailers. The group included three female back ground vocals called “I-Three” The ladies in the group included Jamaica’s Queen of Reggae Music Marcia Griffiths, Rita Marley and Judith Mowatt. They were affectionately Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” as he sung in one of his many hit songs.
At first, the group faced some hard economic challenges playing to small audiences in small venues but Bob never gave up because he always believed “what is to be will be.” Although he came from humble beginnings, he went on to achieve international fame and success as the “King of Reggae.” As Bob Marley continued touring, his audiences grew to the point that it was reported in a France News Paper that during his 1980 “Uprising Tour”, Bob Marley attracted a bigger audience than Pope John Paul II who was at the same venue a week earlier*. After more than 34 years since his death, the King of Reggae, the icon Bob Marley and his message remains a big part of our lives. The unanswered question seems to remain – How did Bob Marley Die?
Bob Marley Big Toe Injury and Melanoma Cancer
Bob Marley’s problems started in 1977 while playing a game of football (Soccer), in France. He loved football and used this as a form of hobby. During this particular football game, a player stepped on Bob’s right foot, causing an injury to his big toe. Bob Marley ignored the injured big toe for a while until it became infected. Eventually, a doctor in Miami examined the toe and diagnosed Bob with melanoma (skin cancer). The physician recommended amputation of the big toe. Bob refused and consulted with his Rastafarian physician, Dr. Carlton “Pee-Wee” Fraser. He prescribed and hoped Bob could be cured with herbal remedies.
Over a period of time and herbal treatments, Bob realized that the toe was not healing and the cancer was not going away. He later agreed to remove the nail bed of his big toe. He did well after the operation and was back on his feet within eight months. Bob was back on the road touring and performing and his fan base grew. Bob Marley’s presence was becoming larger than life. People of all race and culture were captivated by his presence and the message of unity “One Love”. Bob always saw himself as an ordinary man but to the world he was larger than life. His views on social issues, equality for all race as he sang in “Redemption Song” and his teachings, (Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our mind) allowed Bob to enter into our hearts and touch our soul.
On the “Exodus” album with the track “War” (Until the color of a man skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes), Bob was teaching what was required for world peace. The message in his music was reaching the massive and the King of Reggae Music, a musical genius, was realized. One could say that’s when Bob Marley “The Legend” was born. Over the years, people became both passionate and obsessed with Bob Marley and his music. The spiritual lyrics in Bob’s songs are just as powerful today and his vision of the future are emotional reminders of why his audience keeps growing more than thirty four years after his death and brand keeps getting stronger.
Controversy seems to always surround the death of a celebrity. Bob’s death had its share of controversy and conspiracy. It is human nature or as Bob Marley would say, “Movement of Jah (God) People”, to challenge the unknown and believe the unbelievable.
Bob Marley’s life takes a dramatic turn for the worse after two nights of sold out concert at Madison Square Garden in New York City in September of 1980. The morning after the concert, Bob, some members of his band, and his tour manager all went jogging in Central Park. It is reported that while Bob was jogging, he collapsed. He recovered but was taken to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center Hospital in Manhattan, where he was examined by a doctor. The diagnosis was grave. According to Danny Sims (JAD Records and Bob Marley’s manager and publisher from 1967 – 72 & 1979 – 1981) the doctor told him and Allen (Skill) Cole (Professional footballer, Bob’s friend and The Wailers manager) that “Bob had cancer all over his body.” The cancer had spread to his lungs, brain and all over his body. There was no treatment, chemotherapy of radiation or anything else to cure him. “They could not help him.”
According to Danny Sims, Bob was devastated when he heard the news. Furthermore, the doctor suggested that based on the severity of the cancer, Bob should just continue performing until his death. His scheduled performance in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania turned out to be his last performance. At this point, Bob may have needed some alone time and decided not to ride on the tour bus with his group to Pittsburg. All the members of the group “The Wailers” were devastated when they heard the news. Furthermore, the ride to Pittsburg was even harder for The Wailers as Bob Marley did not ride the tour bus.
Bob Arrived in Pittsburg to a sold out audience and gave them the best show he could. He returned to the stage twice as the crowd cried out for more. His friend Allen “Skill” Cole said that during the show, Bob asked him to “stay close just in case he fell out”. After the show, Bob returned to New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center Hospital and started chemotherapy treatment. Shortly thereafter, as a side effect of his treatment, his signature locks began falling out. His friend, Lee Jaffe, (former harmonica player with The Wailers from 1973 – 1975) helped Bob to cut the remainder of his locks. Bob’s locks were a primary part of his identity and his Rastafarian Religion. His Lion Mane was destroyed with the cancer but he was not ready to give up the fight.
Bob Marley stayed at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center Hospital until they could offer no further treatment. Bob last attempt at prolonging his life was to seek out the help of a German Holistic practitioner, Dr. Josef Issels, who was the only known doctor on record to have cured a melanoma cancer patient. Bob flew to Germany with his longtime friend and Artistic Director Neville Garrick, to seek treatment at the Rottach-Egern Bavaria clinic.
Bob Marley was famous for his parables (story telling). He had a way with words. One of his popular phrase was “If you are a big tree, I’m a small Ax, ready to chop you down.” He wielded his small ax, as he fought endlessly to level the playing field – giving a voice to the voiceless, hope to the hopeless and a path to freedom as recorded in “Redemption Song”. He was now facing a personal battle – a steep uphill battle against cancer and it was winning. Some may say that Bob Marley’s commitment to his Rastafarian Religion hastened his demise. Others may say this is how his story was meant to be. He came for a time and a season with a defined purpose.
Bob Marley stayed in Germany for a short time until Dr. Josef Issels and his team could no longer help him. Bob flew back to Miami USA on May 8, 1981 and died three days later on May 11, 1981. Bob Marley was honored with an official funeral from the Jamaican Government at the National Stadium. The people, showed up in vast numbers to pay their final respect to Jamaica’s Native Son.
Bob Marley, The Legend, who came from humble beginnings, who went to bed hungry many nights, was able to fulfill his purpose and saw his career blossom to international acclaim, earning the title “King of Reggae”. The King of Reggae, moved on to be with the ancestors after fulfilling an incredible musical journey.
Recognition and Awards
Awarded Peace Medal of the Third World, from the United Nation, 1978
Awarded Jamaica’s 3rd highest honor, Jamaican Order of Merit, 1981
Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, March 1994
Album of the Century for Exodus, by Time Magazine 1999, 38 years after release
A Star on Hollywood Walk of Fame 2001
Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, 2001
Ranked No. 11 by Rolling Stone 100 Greatest Artist of All Time, 2001
Song of the Millennium by BBC, “One Love”
One of the Greatest Lyricists of all time by a BBC poll
Inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame “Catch A Fire” Reggae Album 2010
Jamaica’s Reggae Month celebrations observed in February, was influenced by Bob’s music. In Timothy White’s book, Catch a Fire, Bob was viewed as the “most charismatic emissary of modern Pan-Africanism” David Burnett, Time magazine photographer, was quoted about Bob Marley, “…one of the most beloved and respected international artistes of our
time” He went on to say, “…Bob was happy to engage you. He was willing and giving…”
Thanks to all for your contributions to Blog. Contributing Editor –Donna JS