Biography of Bob Marley, Iconic Reggae Star

Bob Marley performs on stage

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Bob Marley (born Robert Nesta Marley; February 6, 1945–May 11, 1981) was the most influential Jamaican musician in history, the defining figure of reggae music and a spiritual icon and prophet to many. His music remains globally popular and his work has strong spiritual and political messages. Marley died of cancer in 1981 at age 36.

Fast Facts: Bob Marley

  • Known For: The defining figure of reggae music, spiritual icon
  • Also Known As: Robert Nesta Marley
  • Born: February 6, 1945 in Nine Mile, St. Ann Parish, Jamaica
  • Parents: Norval Sinclair Marley and Cedella Malcolm
  • Died: May 11, 1981 in Miami, Florida
  • Education: Stepney Primary and Junior High School
  • Selection of Albums: "The Wailing Wailers," "Soul Rebels," "Catch a Fire," "Burnin'," "Natty Dread," "Rastaman Vibration," "Exodus," "Kaya," "Survival," "Uprising"
  • Awards and Honors: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, Time's Album of the Century ("Exodus"), BBC's Song of the Millenium ("One Love")
  • Spouse: Rita Marley
  • Children: 12, including Damian "Jr. Gong," Julian, Ziggy, Stephen, Ky-Mani, Cedelia, Sharon
  • Notable Quote: “Babylon is everywhere. You have wrong and you have right. Wrong is what we call Babylon, wrong things. That is what Babylon is to me. I could have born in England, I could have born in America, it make no difference where me born, because there is Babylon everywhere.”

Early Life

Bob Marley was born in 1945 in Nine Mile, St. Ann Parish, Jamaica. His father Norval Sinclair Marley was a white Englishman who died when Bob was 10 years old. Bob's mother Cedella Malcolm moved with him to Kingston's Trenchtown neighborhood after his father's death.

As a young teen, Bob Marley 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.

Early Recordings and the Formation of the Wailers

Bob Marley recorded his first two singles in 1962 while he was still a teenager, 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 the band 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 written by Marley.

Marriage and Religious Conversion

Marley married Rita Anderson in 1966 and spent a few months living in Delaware in the United States with his mother. When Marley returned to Jamaica, he began practicing the Rastafarian faith and started growing his signature dreadlocks.

"The Rastafari Movement," is an Abrahamic faith that believes that Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie was the second coming of the Messiah. Rastafari believe that Western Culture, and Anglo-Saxon culture, in particular, is legendary Babylon, evil, and oppressive. As a devout Rasta, Marley partook in the ritual usage of ganja (marijuana).

Worldwide Success

The Wailers gained popularity in Jamaica during the 1960s with their ska-inflected music and in 1972 they signed with the international label Island. Their 1973 album "Catch a Fire" garnered them worldwide interest. Their 1974 album "Burnin'" contained "I Shot The Sheriff" and "Get Up, Stand Up," both of which gathered cult followings in both the U.S. and Europe.

The same year, however, the Wailers broke up to pursue solo careers. At this point, Marley had made a full transition from ska and rocksteady to a new style, which would forever be called reggae. The word reggae originates from "rege-rege," a slang word for tattered clothing ("rags") and likely refers to its hodgepodge of influences, including both traditional and contemporary Jamaican music, like ska and mento, as well as American R&B

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 first major breakthrough hit song, and his subsequent album "Rastaman Vibration" became a Billboard Top 10 Album. In a few short years, Bob Marley produced such classic songs as "Exodus," "One Love," "Coming in from the Cold," "Jamming," and "Redemption Song."

Political and Religious Activism

Bob Marley spent much of the late 1970s trying to promote peace and cultural understanding within Jamaica. Marley survived an attempted assassination (along with his wife and manager, who also survived) shortly before a peace concert in 1976, through which Marley was trying to bring a truce between Jamaica's political factions.

Marley also acted as a global cultural ambassador for the Jamaican people and the Rastafarian religion. He remains revered as a prophet by many, and certainly a religious and cultural icon by many more.


In 1977, Marley found a wound on his foot, which he believed to be a soccer injury. It was later discovered to be malignant melanoma. Doctors recommended amputation of his toe, but he refused treatment for religious reasons. The cancer eventually spread. When he finally decided to get medical help in 1980, Marley's cancer had become terminal.

Marley wanted to die in Jamaica, but he could not withstand the flight home and died in Miami on May 11, 1981. He received a state funeral. His final recording, at Pittsburgh's Stanley Theatre, was recorded and released for posterity as "Bob Marley and the Wailers Live Forever."


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, 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).

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."


  • Steffens, Roger. So Much Things to Say: The Oral History of Bob Marley. W.W. Norton and Company, 2017.
  • White, Timothy. Catch a Fire: The Life of Bob Marley. Macmillan, 2006.
  • White, Timothy. “Bob Marley.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 2 Feb. 2019.