Remembering Bob Marley, 30 Years Later
On May 11, 1981, the reggae superstar died at age 36. Here's why his musical legacy and personal legend are still holding strong around the world.
In our fast-paced world, a celebrity is created virtually every minute. But there are few musical celebrities with a legacy as enduring as that of Nesta Robert "Bob" Marley.
Today marks the 30th anniversary of the death of a true musical pioneer, a man whose impact transcended class, race and culture all over the world. The reggae legend inspired an almost spiritual following among a diverse set of believers, who expressed their devotion in iconography as varied as indigenous Australian shrines and posters on college-dorm-room walls.
But the question must be asked: Why do so many people connect with Marley? The answer is fairly simple: Marley was an everyman, a gentle soul and a revolutionary. Many have identified with his humble upbringing in the tiny island of Jamaica, the Pan-African beliefs stemming from his Rastafarian faith, and his advocacy of social justice. When he penned politically charged songs like "I Shot the Sheriff" and "Get Up Stand Up," they resonated as far more than mere recordings. They were calls to action.
Many of Marley's greatest and most recognizable hits came with the Wailers (including Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer), who grew up beside him in Trench Town, a Kingston ghetto that spawned many musical greats. Influenced by American music from the era, the band imbued their traditional Jamaican rhythms with the soul of Motown, creating a different take on black music.
Carried by the Caribbean migration to England, the sounds of the islands were reaching new continents. A chance meeting with Island Records head Chris Blackwell in 1972 allowed Marley and the Wailers access to the same high-tech recording equipment that rock bands were using at the time. Their Third World sound crossed over into the developed world.
Throughout the 1970s the musicians produced a slew of worldwide hits. Tracks such as "Exodus" and "One Love" made the charts in the U.S. as well as in the U.K. and other European countries.
Ultimately, it was Marley's penchant for social justice that made him an identifiable superstar. Although he was half white (born to a father of English descent), Marley always identified himself as Pan-African, and during the mid-1970s he dedicated a string of songs to the Diaspora: "Buffalo Soldier" to African Americans, "Africa Unite" to those in Zimbabwe and "War" to his brothers suffering through South Africa's apartheid.