Bob Marley: His Music and Legacy

The man who became a legend loved around the world

Bob Marley’s lifetime of creativity originated in Jamaica and became the foundation of inspiration that spread messages of hope, justice, and understanding around the world. In this exhibit, discover Marley's spirit of love and unity, and celebrate the enduring legacy of his music, work, philosophy, and life.

Bob Marley with is mother Cedella and sister Pearl.Bob Marley: Legend

Bob Marley was born Robert Nesta Marley on February 6, 1945. Bob was born to Cedella Marley when she was 18. Bob’s early life was spent in rural community of Nine Miles, nestled in the mountainous terrain of the parish of St. Ann.

Bob Marley's birthplace Nine Miles, St AnnBob Marley: Legend

Residents of Nine Miles have preserved many customs derived from their African ancestry, especially the art of storytelling for sharing the past and time-tested traditions that are oftentimes overlooked in official historical sources. The proverbs, fables and various chores associated with rural life that were inherent to Bob’s childhood would provide a deeper cultural context and an aura of mysticism to his adult songwriting.

A young Bob Marley in 1973 (1973)Bob Marley: Legend

While barely into his teens, Bob left St. Ann and returned to Jamaica’s capital. He eventually settled in the western Kingston vicinity of Trench Town, so named because it was built over a sewage trench. A low-income community of squatter-settlements and government yards developments that housed a minimum of four families, he quickly learned to defend himself against Trench Town’s rude boys and bad men. Bob’s formidable street-fighting skills earned him the respectful nickname Tuff Gong.

Despite the poverty, despair and various unsavory activities that sustained some ghetto dwellers, Trench Town was also a culturally rich community where Bob's abundant musical talents were nurtured. A lifelong source of inspiration, Bob immortalized Trench Town in his songs “No Woman No Cry” (1974), “Trench Town Rock” (1975) and “Trench Town”, the latter released posthumously in 1983.

By the early 1960s, the island’s music industry was beginning to take shape and its development gave birth to an indigenous popular Jamaican music form called ska. A local interpretation of American soul and R&B, with an irresistible accent on the offbeat, ska exerted a widespread influence on poor Jamaican youth while offering a welcomed escape from their otherwise harsh realities. Within the burgeoning Jamaican music industry, the elusive lure of stardom was now a tangible goal for many ghetto youths.

The Wailers L - R: Bob Marley, Neville Livingston and Peter tosh (1964)Bob Marley: Legend

In 1963, Bob and his childhood friend Neville Livingston a.k.a. Bunny Wailer began attending vocal classes held by Trench Town resident Joe Higgs, a successful singer who mentored many young singers in the principles of rhythm, harmony and melody. In his Trench Town yard, Higgs introduced Bob and Bunny to Peter (Macintosh) Tosh, and the Bob Marley & The Wailers legend was born. 

The trio quickly became good friends so the formation of a vocal group, The Wailing Wailers, was a natural progression; Higgs played a pivotal role in guiding their musical direction. 

Clement Dodd at Coxsone's Record ShopBob Marley: Legend

Bob, Bunny and Peter were introduced to Clement Sir Coxsone Dodd, a sound system operator turned producer; Dodd was also the founder of the seminal Jamaican record label Studio One.

The Wailers album coverer Studio One (1964-02)Bob Marley: Legend

The Wailers’ first single for Studio One “Simmer Down,” with Bob cautioning the ghetto youths to control their tempers or “the battle would be hotter,” reportedly sold over 80,000 copies. The Wailers went on to record several hits for Coxsone including “Rude Boy,” “I’m Still Waiting,” and an early version of “One Love,” the song the BBC would designate as the "Song of the Century" some 35 years later.

The Wailers pose for photo outside Dynamics Recording Studios. (1970)Bob Marley: Legend

In 1970 the Wailers forged a crucial relationship with Jamaican producer Lee “Scratch” Perry, a pioneer in the development of dub, the reggae offshoot where the drum and bass foundation is moved to the forefront. 

The Wailers group photo session (1972)Bob Marley: Legend

Perry wisely paired The Wailers with the nucleus of his studio band The Upsetters, brothers Carlton and Aston “Family Man” Barrett, respectively playing drums and bass. Collectively they forged a revolutionary sonic identity, as heard on tracks like “Duppy Conqueror,” “400 Years” and “Soul Rebel,” which established an enduring paradigm for roots reggae. 

In 1971, Bob went to Sweden to collaborate on a film score with American singer Johnny Nash. Bob secured a contract with Nash’s label CBS Records and by early 1972, the Wailers were in London promoting their single Reggae On Broadway. CBS, however, had little faith in their success and abruptly abandoned the group there.

Bob Marley & Johnny Nash at a recording studio in Sweden., Alec Byme, 1972, From the collection of: Bob Marley: Legend
Bob Marley recording with Johnny Nash in Sweden., 1972, From the collection of: Bob Marley: Legend
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Bob paid a chance visit to the London offices of Island Records and the result was a meeting with label founder Chris Blackwell. He sought the finances to record a single but Blackwell suggested the group record an album and advanced them £4,000, an unheard of sum to be given to a Jamaican act.

Black Music Magazine features the Wailers (1974-07)Bob Marley: Legend

Island’s top reggae star Jimmy Cliff had recently left the label and Blackwell saw Bob as the ideal artist to fill that void and attract an audience primed for rock music. “I was dealing with rock music, which was really rebel music and I felt that would really be the way to break Jamaican music. But you needed someone who could be that image. When Bob walked in he really was that image,” Blackwell once reflected. 

The Wailers photo for the "Catch A Fire" album (1973) by Cookie KincadeBob Marley: Legend

Despite their “rude boy” reputation, the Wailers returned to Kingston and honored their agreement with Blackwell. They delivered their Catch A Fire album in April 1973 to extensive international media fanfare. Tours of England and the U.S. were quickly arranged and the life of Bob Marley was forever changed. 

Bob Marley & the Wailers Catch A Fire album cover, Ester Anderson, 1973, From the collection of: Bob Marley: Legend
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The Wailers photo for back cover of "Catch A Fire" album. (1973) by Cookie KinkadeBob Marley: Legend

Their U.S. gigs included an opening slot for a then relatively unknown Bruce Springsteen in New York City. The Wailers toured with Sly and the Family Stone, who were at their peak in the early 70s, but were removed after just four dates because their riveting performances, reportedly, upstaged the headliner.

The Wailers Burnin album cover, 1973, From the collection of: Bob Marley: Legend
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Following the successful Catch A Fire Tour, the Wailers promptly recorded their second album for Island Records, Burnin, which was released in October 1973. Featuring some of Bob’s most celebrated songs “Burnin” introduced their timeless anthem of insurgency “Get Up Stand Up” and “I Shot The Sheriff,” which Eric Clapton covered and took to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in 1974. Clapton’s cover significantly elevated Bob Marley’s international profile, the same year that Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer left the group.

Bob Marley and Peter Tosh live at the Matrix, Fillmore in San Francisco - Burnin' Tour, 1973-10-29, From the collection of: Bob Marley: Legend
The Wailers - Burnin' Tour in San Francisco, 1973-10, From the collection of: Bob Marley: Legend
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The Wailers live at the Leeds Polytechnic University, Leeds, UK - Burnin' Tour, Dennis Morris, 1973-11-27, From the collection of: Bob Marley: Legend
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Bob Marley & the Wailers Natty Dread album cover (1975) by Tony WrightBob Marley: Legend

Bob's third album for Island Records Natty Dread, released in October 1975, was the first credited to Bob Marley & The Wailers; the harmonies of Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer were replaced with the soulfulness of the I-Threes, Rita Marley, Marcia Griffiths and Judy Mowatt.

Bob Marley & the Wailers Natty Dread full page Advt. (1975)Bob Marley: Legend

Characterized by spiritually and socially conscious lyrics, the Natty Dread album included a rousing blues-influenced celebration of reggae, “Lively Up Yourself,” which Bob used to open many of his concerts.

The joy he experienced among friends amidst the struggles of his Trench Town youth is poignantly conveyed on “No Woman No Cry,” while the essential title track played a significant role in introducing Rastafarian culture and philosophies to the world. 

Bob Marley live at the Lyceum Ballroom, London, UK (1975-07-17) by Adrian BootBob Marley: Legend

The following year Bob embarked on a highly successful European tour in support of Natty Dread, which included two nights at London’s Lyceum Theater.  The Lyceum performances were captured on Bob’s next release for Island, Bob Marley and the Wailers Live!, which featured a melancholy version of “No Woman No Cry” that reached the UK top 40.

Bob Marley live at the Lyceum Ballroom, London. (1975-07-17) by Adrian BootBob Marley: Legend

Bob Marley, Neville Garrick, Micheal Campbell and Tyrone Downie enter the back of Birmingham Odeon (1975-07-19) by Ian DicksonBob Marley: Legend

Bob Marley & the Wailers Rastaman Vibration album cover (1976-03) by Neville GarrickBob Marley: Legend

Bob Marley catapulted to international stardom in 1976 with the release of Rastaman Vibration, his only album to reach the Billboard Top 200, peaking at no. 8. With the inclusion of “Crazy Baldhead,” which decries “brainwash education” and the stirring title cut, Rastaman Vibration presented a clearer understanding of Rastafari teachings to the mainstream audience that was now attentively listening to Bob. 

Bob hoists picture of Haile Selassie I during the Santa Monica CC (1976-05-25) by Kim GottliebBob Marley: Legend

Also included was “War,” its lyrics adapted from an impassioned speech to the United Nations General Assembly in 1963, delivered by Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I whom Rastafarians consider a living God. 35 years after its initial release “War” remains an unassailable anthem of equality, its empowering spirit embraced by dispossessed people everywhere.

Bob hoists picture of Haile Selassie I during the Santa Monica CC (1976-05-25) by Kim GottliebBob Marley: Legend

As 1976 drew to a close, Bob was now regarded as a global reggae ambassador who had internationally popularized Rastafarian beliefs. At home, that distinction fostered an immense sense of pride among those who embraced Bob’s messages. 

Jamaica Labor party area in Kingston, JamaicaBob Marley: Legend

But Bob’s expanding influence was also a point of contention for others in Jamaica, which was brutally divided by political alliances. With the intention of suppressing simmering tensions between Jamaica’s rival People’s National Party (PNP) and the Jamaica Labor Party (JLP), Bob agreed to a request by Jamaica’s Ministry of Culture to headline a (non partisan) free concert, Smile Jamaica, to be held on December 5, 1976 in Kingston.

Jamaica Daily News front page story Bob Marley Shot (1976-12-04)Bob Marley: Legend

Two days prior to the event, as Bob Marley & The Wailers rehearsed at his Kingston home, an unsuccessful assassination attempt was made on his life. Gunmen sprayed Bob’s residence with bullets but miraculously, no one was killed. Bob escaped with minor gunshot wounds, Rita underwent surgery to remove a bullet that grazed her head but she was released from the hospital the next day. 

Bob Marley live at the Smile Jamaica Concert at the National Heroes Park, Jamaica (1976-12-05)Bob Marley: Legend

If the ambush in the night at Bob's home was an attempt to prevent him from performing at the Smile Jamaica concert or a warning intended to silence the revolutionary spirit within his music, then it had failed miserably. 

Bob Marley live at the Smile Jamaica Concert at the National Heroes Park, Kingston, Jamaica (1976-12-05)Bob Marley: Legend

Bob defiantly performed “War” at the Smile Jamaica concert, which reportedly drew 80,000 people but shortly thereafter he went into seclusion and few people knew of his whereabouts.

Three months after the Smile Jamaica concert, Bob flew to London where he lived for the next year and a half; there he recorded the albums Exodus (1977) and Kaya (1978). Exodus’ title track provided a call for change, “the movement of Jah people,” incorporating spiritual and political concerns into its groundbreaking amalgam of reggae, rock and soul-funk.

A second single, the sultry dance tune “Jamming” became a British top 10 hit. The Exodus album remained on the UK charts for a staggering 56 consecutive weeks, bringing a level of commercial success to Bob Marley & The Wailers that had previously eluded the band.

Bob Marley and the Wailers record label for the Exodus single, 1977-05, From the collection of: Bob Marley: Legend
Bob Marley and the Wailers "Jamming" single record label - Exodus Album, 1977-05, From the collection of: Bob Marley: Legend
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In a more laid back vein, the Kaya album hit no. 4 on the British charts, propelled by the popularity of the romantic singles “Satisfy My Soul” and “Is This Love?Kaya’s title track extols the herb Marley used throughout his lifetime; the somber “Running Away,” and the haunting “Time Will Tell” are deep reflections on the December 1976 assassination attempt.

The release of Kaya coincided with Bob Marley’s triumphant return to Jamaica for a performance at the One Love Peace Concert, held on April 22, 1978 at Kingston’s National Stadium. The event was another effort aimed at curtailing the rampant violence stemming from PNP-JLP rivalries; the event featured 16 popular reggae acts and was dubbed a “Third World Woodstock.”

Bob Marley live at the One Love/Peace Concert at the National Stadium, Jamaica, Adrian Boot, 1978-04-22, From the collection of: Bob Marley: Legend
Bob Marley live at the One Love/Peace Concert, Adrian Boot, 1978-04-22, From the collection of: Bob Marley: Legend
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In the concert’s most memorable scenario, Bob Marley invited JLP leader Edward Seaga and Prime Minister Michael Manley onstage. As the Wailers pumped out the rhythm to “Jamming,” Bob urged the politicians to shake hands; clasping his left hand over theirs, he raised their arms aloft and chanted “Jah Rastafari.”

In recognition of his courageous attempt to bridge Jamaica’s cavernous political divide, Bob traveled to the United Nations in New York where he received the organization’s Medal of Peace on June 15, 1978.

Bob Marley with Rastafarian brothers in a river in Shashamane, Ethiopia (1978-11)Bob Marley: Legend

At the end of 1978, Bob made his first trip to Africa. He visited Kenya and Ethiopia, the latter being the spiritual home of Rastafari. 

Bob Marley with Twelve Tribes of Isreal members in Shashamane, Ethiopia (1978-11)Bob Marley: Legend

During his Ethiopian sojourn, Bob stayed in Shashamane, a communal settlement situated on 500-acres of land donated by Emperor Haile Selassie I to Rastafarians that chose to repatriate to Ethiopia. 

Bob Marley in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia 78' (1978-11)Bob Marley: Legend

Bob also traveled to the Ethiopian capitol Addis Ababa where he visited several sites significant to His Majesty’s life and ancient Ethiopian history.

Bob Marley getting on the train from Tokyo to Osaka (1979-04-11)Bob Marley: Legend

That same year Bob and the band's tours of Europe and America were highlighted on their second critically acclaimed live album “Babylon By Bus.” In 1978 Bob and The Wailers also toured Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

Bob marley & the Wailers SURVIVAL album cover (1979-10) by Neville GarrickBob Marley: Legend

Bob released Survival, his 9th album for Island, in the summer of 1979. From opening track’s clarion call to “Wake Up and Live” to the concluding “Ambush In The Night,” his definitive statement on the 1976 assassination attempt, Survival is a brilliant, politically progressive work championing pan-African solidarity. 

Bob Marley & The Wailers Survival Album back cover (1979) by Neville GarrickBob Marley: Legend

Survival also included “Africa Unite” and “Zimbabwe," the latter an anthem for the soon-to-be liberated colony of Rhodesia.

Bob Marley and the Wailers visit the the president of Zimbabwe. (1980-04-15)Bob Marley: Legend

In April 1980, Bob and the band performed at Zimbabwe’s official Independence Ceremony at the invitation of the country’s newly elected President Robert Mugabe. This profound honor reconfirmed the importance of Bob Marley & The Wailers’ throughout the African Diaspora and reggae’s significance as a unifying and liberating force.

Bob Marley live in Zimbabwe (1980-04-17)Bob Marley: Legend

Unbeknownst to the band, the Zimbabwe Independence concert was solely for a select group of media and political dignitaries. As Bob Marley & The Wailers started their set, pandemonium ensued among the enormous crowd gathered outside the entrance to the Rufaro Sports Stadium: the gates broke apart as Zimbabweans surged forward to see the musicians who inspired their liberation struggle. 

Bob Marley performing at the Independence celebrations Zimbabwe (1980-04-17)Bob Marley: Legend

Clouds of teargas drifted into the stadium; the Wailers were overcome with fumes and left the stage. The I-Threes returned to their hotel but Bob Marley went back onstage and performed “Zimbabwe.” The following evening, Bob Marley & The Wailers returned to Rufaro Stadium and put on a free show for a crowd of nearly 80,000.

Bob Marley & the Wailers Uprising album cover. (1980) by Neville GarrickBob Marley: Legend

The final album to be released in Bob’s lifetime, Uprising, helped to fulfill another career objective. Bob had openly courted an African American listenership throughout his career and he made a profound connection to that demographic with “Could You Be Loved,” which incorporated a danceable reggae-disco fusion. “Could You Be Loved” reached no. 6 and no. 56 respectively on Billboard’s Club Play Singles and Black Singles charts.

Bob Marley at soundcheck in France during the Uprising Tour (1980-06)Bob Marley: Legend

Uprising also included contemplative odes to Bob’s Rastafarian beliefs, “Zion Train” and “Forever Loving Jah,” and the deeply moving “Redemption Song” a stark, acoustic declaration of enduring truths and profoundly personal musings.

Bob Marley & the Wailers live in Munich, Germany (1980-06-13) by Neville GarrickBob Marley: Legend

Bob Marley & The Wailers embarked on a major European tour in the spring of 1980, breaking attendance records in several countries. In Milan, Italy, they performed before 100,000 people, the largest audience of their career. 

Bob Marley exits the tour bus during the Uprising tour in Europe. (1980) by Lyn GoldsmithBob Marley: Legend

Bob Marley Live soundcheck at Madison Square Garden, NYC (1980-09-19)Bob Marley: Legend

The U.S. leg of the Uprising tour commenced in Boston on September 16 at the JB Hynes Auditorium. On September 19, Bob and the band rolled into New York City for two consecutive sold out nights at Madison Square Garden as part of a bill featuring New York-based rapper Kurtis Blow, Lionel Richie and the Commodores. 

Bob Marley at soundcheck at Madison Square Gardens, New York (1980-09-19) by Adrian BootBob Marley: Legend

Bob Marley and crew on a Ferry ride during the Uprising Tour (1980) by Lynn GoldsmithBob Marley: Legend

Bob Marley live during the Uprising Tour in Europe (1980-06) by Lyn GoldsmithBob Marley: Legend

Bob Marley backstage at Madison Square Gardens, New York (1980-09-19) by Lyn GoldsmithBob Marley: Legend

Bob Marley live during the European leg of the Uprising Tour. (1980) by Peter MurphyBob Marley: Legend

The tour went onto the Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh, PA where Bob delivered the final set of his illustrious career on September 23, 1980.

Bob Marley during the Uprising tour in Europe (1980)Bob Marley: Legend

Bob Marley at the Essex House Hotel in New York during the Uprising tour. (1980-09-20) by Adrian BootBob Marley: Legend

Bob Marley live at Le Bourget, France Uprising tour (1980-07-03)Bob Marley: Legend

The Bob Marley influence upon various populations remains unparalleled, irrespective of race, color or creed. His revolutionary yet unifying music, challenging colonialism, racism, “fighting against ism and scism” as he sang in “One Drop,” has had profound effects even in countries where English isn’t widely spoken. 

Bob Marley live during the Exodus Tour - UK (1977-06)Bob Marley: Legend

In August 2008, two musicians from the war-scarred countries of Serbia and Croatia (formerly provinces within Yugoslavia) unveiled a statue of Bob Marley during a rock music festival in Serbia. It is intended to promote peace and tolerance and carries the inscription “Bob Marley fighter for freedom armed with a guitar.”

Bob Marley welcomed in New Zealand (1979-04-15)Bob Marley: Legend

In Koh Lipe, Thailand, Bob's February 6th birthday is celebrated for three days with a cultural festival. In New Zealand, his life and music are now essential components of Waitangi Day (February 6) observances honoring the unifying treaty signed between the country’s European settlers and its indigenous Maori population. 

Bob Marley surrounded by Zimbabwe freedom fighters at the Stadium in Harare a day before Independence. (1980-04-17) by Neville GarrickBob Marley: Legend

On April 17, 1980 when the former British colony of Rhodesia was liberated and officially renamed Zimbabwe and the Union Jack replaced with the red, gold, green and black Zimbabwean flag, it is said that the first words officially spoken in the new nation were “ladies and gentlemen, Bob Marley and the Wailers.”

For the Zimbabwean freedom fighters that listened to Bob Marley, inspiration and strength were drawn from his empowering lyrics. Marley penned a tribute to their efforts, “Zimbabwe,” which was included on the most overtly political album of his career, 1979’s Survival. 

Bob Marley in Zimbabwe for Independence Concert (1980-04-16) by Neville GarrickBob Marley: Legend

He was invited to headline their official liberation celebrations. Zimbabwean police used tear gas to control the crowds that stampeded through the gates of Harare’s Rufaro Stadium to get a glimpse of Marley onstage.

As several members of Marley’s entourage fled for cover, he returned to the stage to perform “Zimbabwe,” his words resounding with a greater urgency amidst the ensuing chaos: “to divide and rule could only tear us apart, in everyman chest, there beats a heart/so soon we’ll find out who is the real revolutionaries and I don’t want my people to be tricked by mercenaries.” 

Bob Marley in Zimbabwe (1980-04-16) by Neville GarrickBob Marley: Legend

“There was smoke everywhere, our eyes filled with tears so we ran off,” recalls Marcia Griffiths, who sang backup for Marley, alongside Rita Marley and Judy Mowatt, as the I-Threes. “When Bob saw us the next day he smiled and said, 'now we know who are the real revolutionaries'."

Bob Marley served as a world ambassador for reggae music and sold more than 20 million records throughout his career—making him the first international superstar to emerge from the so-called Third World.

He posthumously was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994; in December 1999, his 1977 album Exodus was named album of the century by TIME magazine and his song One Love was designated song of the millennium by the BBC. Since its release in 1984, Bob’s Legend compilation has annually sold over 250,000 copies according to Nielsen Sound Scan, and it is only the 17th album to exceed sales of 10 million copies since SoundScan began its tabulations in 1991.

Bob Marley portrait by Glen La Ferman Playboy Magazine interview., Glen La Ferman, 1979-11-23, From the collection of: Bob Marley: Legend
Glen La Ferman photo shoot of Bob Marley in Los Angeles., Glen La Ferman, 1979-11-22, From the collection of: Bob Marley: Legend
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In 2000, Bob received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the next year, he was honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2004, Rolling Stone named him one of the greatest artists of all time (#11). In 2006, the bustling stretch of Church Avenue, between Remsen Avenue and east 98th street in Brooklyn, was co-named Bob Marley Boulevard—a significant development for the Caribbean community. In 2010, The Wailers’ album Catch A Fire was added to the Grammy Hall of Fame. In 2012, Los Angeles declared August 7th as "Bob Marley Day."

In celebration of what would have been his 68th birthday, the 55th Annual Grammy Awards in 2013 featured an all-star tribute to Bob featuring performances by Bruno Mars, Rihanna, Sting, and his sons Ziggy and Damian Marley. Directly connecting the dots between today’s sounds and the reggae legend’s illustrious career, the performance proved that Bob has the ultimate staying power.

Bob Marley portrait., 1975, From the collection of: Bob Marley: Legend
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"If you know what life is worth, you would look for yours on Earth. And now you see the light..." - Bob Marley

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