Today marks 38 years since we lost Bob Marley. We look back on his incredible rise to international success to celebrate the legacy of a “Legend.”
Ask anyone to name just one reggae artist and most will say Bob Marley – he’s an icon for Jamaica and the music he helped make so popular. His talent for writing deceptively simple songs that possess great depth as well as universal themes helped make him not just a reggae great, but a true musical superstar.
1973’s Catch a Fire, the Wailers’ Island debut, was the first of their albums released outside of Jamaica, and immediately earned worldwide acclaim; the follow-up, Burnin’, launched the track “I Shot the Sheriff.” With the Wailers poised for stardom, however, both Livingston and Tosh quit the group to pursue solo careers; Marley then brought in the I-Threes, which in addition to Rita Marley consisted of singers Marcia Griffiths and Judy Mowatt. The new lineup proceeded to tour the world prior to releasing their 1975 breakthrough album Natty Dread, scoring their first U.K. Top 40 hit with the classic “No Woman, No Cry.” Sellout shows at the London Lyceum, where Marley played to racially mixed crowds, yielded the superb Live! later that year, and with the success of 1976’s Rastaman Vibration, which hit the Top Ten in the U.S., it became increasingly clear that his music had carved its own niche within the pop mainstream.
As great as Marley’s fame had grown outside of Jamaica, at home he was viewed as a figure of almost mystical proportions, a poet and prophet whose every word had the nation’s collective ear. His power was perceived as a threat in some quarters, and on December 3, 1976, he was wounded in an assassination attempt; the ordeal forced Marley to leave Jamaica for over a year. 1977’s Exodus was his biggest record to date, generating the hits “Jamming,” “Waiting in Vain,” and “One Love/People Get Ready”; Kaya was another smash, highlighted by the gorgeous “Is This Love” and “Satisfy My Soul.” Another classic live date, Babylon by Bus, preceded the release of 1979’s Survival. 1980 loomed as Marley’s biggest year yet, kicked off by a concert in the newly liberated Zimbabwe; a tour of the U.S. was announced, but while jogging in New York’s Central Park he collapsed, and it was discovered he suffered from cancer that had spread to his brain, lungs, and liver. Uprising was the final album released in Marley’s lifetime — he died May 11, 1981, at age 36.
Posthumous efforts including 1983’s Confrontation, the best-selling 1984 retrospective Legend, and the 2012 documentary Marley kept the man’s music alive, and his renown continued to grow in the years following his death — even decades after the fact, he remains synonymous with reggae’s world-wide popularity. In the wake of her husband’s passing, Rita Marley scored a solo hit with “One Draw,” but despite the subsequent success of singles “Many Are Called” and “Play Play,” she had largely withdrawn from performing to focus on raising her children by the mid-’80s. Oldest son David, better known as Ziggy, went on to score considerable pop success as the leader of the Melody Makers, a Marley family group comprised of siblings Cedella, Stephen, and Sharon; their 1988 single “Tomorrow People” was a Top 40 U.S. hit, a feat even Bob himself never accomplished. Three other Marley children — Damian, Julian, and Ky-Mani — pursued careers in music as well.
Shop Bob Marley in the MusicVaultz store:
Catch A Fire (Deluxe Edition)Bob Marley
Legend: 30th Anniversary Edition (2LP)Bob Marley
Burnin' (Deluxe Edition)Bob Marley
Live Forever (Super Deluxe)Bob Marley