Bob Marley was born in a small village called Nine Miles in Jamaica. The son of British Naval Officer and Jamaican woman called Cedella, Marley rarely saw his father due to his mother’s family and their disapproval of his parents relationship.
By the time he had turned 16, Marley had recorded his first single ‘Judge Not’, and in 1963, he formed The Wailers with Peter Tosh, Bunny Livingstone, Junior Braithwaite, and Beverly Kelso. The band then scored their first number one in Jamaica with ‘Simmer Down’ on the Coxsone label.
When Braithwaite and Kelso left the group around 1965, the Wailers continued as a trio, Marley, Tosh, and Livingstone trading leads. In spite of the popularity of singles like ‘Rude Boy’, the artists received few or no royalties, and in 1966 they disbanded.
After marrying his girlfriend Rita Anderson, Marley spent most of the following year working in a factory in Newark in the United States, where his mother had moved in 1963. Upon his return to Jamaica, the Wailers reunited and recorded for Coxsone with little success. During this period, the Wailers devoted themselves to the religious sect of Rastafari.
In 1969, they began a three-year association with Lee “Scratch” Perry, who directed them to play their own instruments and expanded their line-up to include Aston and Carlton Barrett, formerly the rhythm section of Perry’s studio band, the Upsetters. Some of the records they made with Perry – like ‘Trenchtown Rock’ – were locally very popular, but so precarious was the Jamaican record industry that the group seemed no closer than before to establishing steady careers. It formed an independent record company, Tuff Gong, in 1971, but the venture foundered when Livingstone was jailed and Marley got caught in a contract commitment to American pop singer Johnny Nash, who took him to Sweden to write a film score.
Their breakthrough came in 1972 when Chris Blackwell – who had released ‘Judge Not’ in England in 1963 – signed the Wailers to Island Records and advanced them the money to record themselves in Jamaica. The first result of this new contract was 1973’s ‘Catch A Fire’, the breakthrough album that saw the band reach an international audience for the first time. It was followed a year later by Burnin’, which included the songs “Get Up, Stand Up” and “I Shot The Sheriff”.
The band toured heavily during this period, and Marley expanded the instrumental section of the group and bringing in a female vocal trio, the I-Threes, which included his wife, Rita. Now called Bob Marley and the Wailers, they toured Europe, Africa, and the Americas, building especially strong followings in the U.K., Scandinavia, and Africa. They had U.K. Top 40 hits with ‘No Woman No Cry’ (1975), ‘Exodus’ (1977), ‘Waiting in Vain’ (1977), and ‘Satisfy My Soul’ (1978).
In 1976, Marley was shot by gunmen during the Jamaican election campaign, but survived and continued to soar in popularity until his 1981 death due to brain, lung and stomach cancer. In 1987, both Peter Tosh and longtime Marley drummer Carlton Barrett were murdered in Jamaica during separate incidents. Rita Marley continues to tour, record, and run the Tuff Gong studios and record company.