Today’s Black History Month feature is the late great Bob Marley who happens to celebrate his 69th birthday (February 6, 1945) today.
Marley got his start in 1963 with the group the Wailers. The group would later break-up in 1974 with each member pursuing solo careers. Bob went on to established worldwide recognition after the release of his first solo album, Exodus in 1977.
As a devoted Rastafarian, he infused spirituality in his music which became a key element in the development of reggae music and what resonated with audiences everywhere. Marley gave the Rastafarian movement world recognition taking it out of the slums of Jamaica, mainstream. During a recorded interview, he once gave the following response:
Interviewer: “Can you tell the people what it means being a Rastafarian?” Bob: “I would say to the people, Be still, and know that His Imperial Majesty, Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia is the Almighty. Now, the Bible seh so, Babylon newspaper seh so, and I and I the children seh so. Yunno? So I don’t see how much more reveal our people want. Wha’ dem want? a white God, well God come black. True true.”
In 1966, Marley married Rita Anderson, and moved near his mother’s residence in Wilmington, Delaware. Few would know, he worked as a Dupont Lab Assistant and on the Chrysler assembly line for a short period of time under an alias, Donald Marley before returning to Jamaica.
Bob Marley had a number of children: three with his wife Rita, two adopted from Rita’s previous relationships, and several others with different women. The Bob Marley official website acknowledges eleven children in total.
Though raised as a Catholic, Marley became interested in Rastafarian beliefs in the 1960s, when away from his mother’s influence. After returning to Jamaica Marley formally converted to Rastafari and began to grow dreadlocks. The Rastafarian proscription against cutting hair is based on the biblical Samson who as a Nazarite was expected to make certain religious vows including the ritual treatment of his hair as described in Chapter Six of the Book of Numbers:
All the days of the vow of his separation there shall no razor come upon his head: until the days be fulfilled, in the which he separateth himself unto the Lord, he shall be holy, and shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow.
Marley was a vegetarian and adhered to the Rastafarian practices . According to his biographers, he affiliated with the Twelve Tribes Mansion. He was in the denomination known as “Tribe of Joseph”, because he was born in February (each of the twelve sects being composed of members born in a different month). He signified this in his album liner notes, quoting the portion from Genesis that includes Jacob’s blessing to his son Joseph.
He was a prolific songwriter and said to have written more than 200 songs before his untimely passing. He spoke of freedom and emancipation in much of his music. The pain in his voice and heartfelt lyrics are what distinguished him from other greats.
His album Uprising, released in May 1980 (produced by Chris Blackwell), on which “Redemption Song” is, in particular, considered to be about Marley coming to terms with his mortality. Marley died of Cancer on May 11, 1981 at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Miami; he was 36 years old. His final words to his son Ziggy were “Money can’t buy life.” He received a state funeral in Jamaica on May 21, 1981 which combined elements of Ethiopian Orthodoxy and Rastafari tradition. More than 30,000 adoring fans paid their respects to the musician.
Shortly before his death, Marley was baptised into Christianity by Archbishop Abuna Yesehaq of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Kingston, Jamaica, November 4, 1980. His music is eternal and message will go on forever.
Bob Marley, we salute you!