Life and Legacy

Bob Marley - Early Life

Bob and CedellaBob 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. Residents of Nine Miles have preserved many customs derived from their African ancestry especially the art of storytelling as a means of 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.

Norval and Cedella married in 1945 but Captain Marley's family strongly disapproved of their union; although the elder Marley provided financial support, the last time Bob Marley saw his father was when he was five years old; at that time, Norval took his son to Kingston to live with his nephew, a businessman, and to attend school. Eighteen months later Cedella learned that Bob wasn't going to school and was living with an elderly couple. Alarmed, she went to Kingston, found Bob and brought him home to Nine Miles.

Bob Marley begins his music career

The next chapter in the Bob Marley biography commenced in the late 1950s when Bob, barely into his teens, 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 comprised of squatter-settlements and government yards developments that housed a minimum of four families, Bob Marley 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 Marley'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.

Early Wailers Line-up

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.

Uncertain about the prospects of a music career for her son, Cedella encouraged Bob to pursue a trade. When Bob left school at 14 years old she found him a position as a welder's apprentice, which he reluctantly accepted. After a short time on the job a tiny steel splinter became embedded in Bob's eye. Following that incident, Bob promptly quit welding and solely focused on his musical pursuits.

At 16 years old Bob Marley met another aspiring singer Desmond Dekker, who would go on to top the UK charts in 1969 with his single "Israelites". Dekker introduced Marley to another young singer, Jimmy Cliff, future star of the immortal Jamaican film "The Harder They Come", who, at age 14, had already recorded a few hit songs. In 1962 Cliff introduced Marley to producer Leslie Kong; Marley cut his first singles for Kong: "Judge Not", "Terror" and "One More Cup of Coffee", a cover of the million selling country hit by Claude Gray. When these songs failed to connect with the public, Marley was paid a mere $20.00, an exploitative practice that was widespread during the infancy of Jamaica's music business. Bob Marley reportedly told Kong he would make a lot of money from his recordings one day but he would never be able to enjoy it. Years later, when Kong released a best of The Wailers compilation against the group's wishes, he suffered a fatal heart attack at age 37.

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