Today, February 6th, would have been Bob Marley’s 73rd birthday.
Tragically, Marley died in 1981 at the young age of 36. However, he left behind a legacy of music – both his own and the music that his children have created. He was also responsible for bringing reggae music to the world. Not bad for only 36 years on this earth!
Keep reading to find out more about Marley, and some of the musicians that played this past weekend in honor of his birthday!
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THE LEGEND – BOB MARLEY
The Early Years
Bob Marley was born as Robert Nester Marley in Nine Mile, Saint Ann Parish in Jamaica. His father – Norval Sinclair Marley – was a white Jamaican born in Sussex, England. His mother – Cedella Booker – was an Afro-Jamaican who was only 18 years old when she married Norval. While Norval supported his family financially, he was often away and rarely saw them. When Marley was just 10 years old, his father died of a heart attack.
Marley met Neville Livingston (aka Bunny Wailer) when they were children in Nine Mile. They began playing music together as early as primary school. When Marley was 12 years old, he and his mother moved to Trenchtown, Kingston, where she entered a relationship with Wailer’s father. It was then that Marley and Wailer started singing with Peter Tosh, Beverley Kelso, and Junior Braithwaite.
In February of 1962, Marley recorded his first songs. By 1963, Marley, Wailer, Tosh, Kelso, Braithwaite and Cherry Smith had formed a group called the Teenagers. They later changed their name to the Wailing Rudeboys, then the Wailing Wailers, and finally the Wailers. By 1964, their single “Simmer Down” hit number one in Jamaica, and their career was off!
In 1966, Marley married Rita Anderson, and they moved for a short time to Wilmington, DE to be closer to Marley’s mother. Marley worked at DuPont and the Chrysler factory under the alias of Donald Marley. He returned to Jamaica after this brief stint in the states, where he officially converted to Rastafarianism.
Early International Success
In 1972, Marley signed with CBS Records in London. He embarked on a UK tour with American singer Johnny Nash. Around this time, the Wailers were introduced to Chris Blackwell of Island Records. Blackwell offered them an advance to record an album – Catch A Fire – which was released in 1973. It was followed by the album Burnin‘, which included the song “I Shot the Sheriff”.
To promote the album, the Wailers went on tour in the U.S. as openers for Sly and the Family Stone. However, they were fired from the tour after only four shows, because they were more popular with the audiences than the main act!
In 1974, the Wailers broke up, with each of the members pursuing solo careers.
Bob Marley & The Wailers
After the break-up of the Wailers, Marley began touring and recording with a new line-up of band members he called Bob Marley & The Wailers. The band consisted of Marley, Carlton Barrett, Aston “Family Man” Barrett, Junior Marvin, Al Anderson, Tyrone Downie, Earl “Wya” Lindo, and Alvin “Seeco” Patterson. It also featured the “I Threes” on back-up vocals – Judy Mowatt, Marcia Griffiths, and Rita Anderson.
In 1975, Marley had his first international hit with “No Woman No Cry” from the Natty Dread album. His breakthrough album in the U.S. – Rastaman Vibration – was released in 1975. In 1976, Marley moved to England where he recorded what is considered to be his most iconic album – Exodus.
Ultimately, Bob Marley & The Wailers recorded 11 albums together, had huge international success, and brought reggae music to the world.
In July of 1977, Marley was diagnosed with a type of malignant melanoma under the nail of a toe. The doctors advised him to have the toe amputated, but Marley refused. Instead, Marley continued recording music and touring.
Marley’s last concert was at the Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh, PA on September 23, 1980. Just two days before, he had collapsed while jogging in Central Park in NYC. While in the hospital, doctors discovered that the cancer had spread to his brain.
Unfortunately, the cancer continued to spread quickly, and Marley had to cancel the rest of his tour as he became more and more ill. He traveled to Germany to receive an alternative treatment, but after 8 months, he realized that it wasn’t working. Marley decided to return to his home of Jamaica.
During the flight home, Marley’s condition grew grave, and the plane was diverted to Miami, FL. Marley died on May 11, 1981 at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Miami. He received a state funeral in Jamaica on May 21st. His body is buried in a chapel near his birth place. Today, tourists visit the area and pay homage to the musical legend.
Jah Works and Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad at The Ardmore Music Hall
The Ardmore Music Hall had a show this past Friday night, that was not officially advertised as a tribute to Bob Marley, but was a night full of reggae music.
The opening band was Jah Works – a reggae band out of Baltimore. The band has been around since 1993, and brought their reggae beats to the Philadelphia suburbs crowd. Lead singer Scott Paynter even wore his Randall Cunningham Eagles jersey, in honor of the Eagles being in the Super Bowl.
We first ran across Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad at the Levitate Music Festival last summer. You can read about that show here:
The band is based out of Rochester, NY and was formed in 2001.
Their set at The Ardmore Music Hall was mostly their original songs, but singer James Searl spoke about it being Bob Marley’s birthday soon, and they played a few Marley covers to honor him.
Their album Make It Better was released on September 16, 2016 and debuted at #1 on the Billboard Reggae Chart. They are currently on the road, playing dates through April across the country. Check out their website at www.livepanda.com for more information.
Spokey Speaky at The Queen
For the past 7 years, The Queen (now owned and operated by Live Nation, and previously owned and operated by the people that run World Café Live) has hosted a birthday celebration to honor Bob Marley. The show always features Spokey Speaky, a reggae band based out of Wilmington, DE.
As I mentioned above, Marley lived in Wilmington for a short time, so the city has a special bond with Marley and his music.
I’ve seen Spokey Speaky perform a number of times at local venues. They always put on a fantastic show and have a large and loyal fan base. Spokey Speaky played all sorts of Marley songs – everything from deeper tracks to fan favorites like “Three Little Birds” and “Exodus”. If you’d like to read about their show last year at Coda opening for Protoje, click here:
The band played for 3 ½ hours, with a short break in between sets. During the break, the venue showed a video that talked about Marley and focused on his time in Wilmington.
If you are looking to hear some great reggae music and live in Delaware, you can catch Spokey Speaky every Thursday night at D&H Jamaican Cuisine in Newark, DE. They also play additional shows throughout the region, including several of the reggae festivals that happen during the summer. Check out their website at www.spokeyspeaky.com to stay up to date on their upcoming shows.
We have one more reggae show coming. We’ll be seeing the Wailers (which includes several members of the original Bob Marley & The Wailers) this Thursday. Stay tuned for our article on the show!
Have questions or comments about Bob Marley or any of the bands you read about here? Comment below or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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