Bob Marley is the best-known reggae artist in the world. Widely regarded as the “King of Reggae,” Marley’s ongoing spiritual leadership of much of the reggae community is matched by his widespread popularity across a broader audience of listeners who don’t otherwise consider themselves fans of reggae, dub, ska, or rocksteady music. Bob Marley is the most important figure in the reggae diaspora. He is largely responsible for global awareness of the reggae art form, Rastafari beliefs, and Jamaica in general.
Bob Marley’s music and message were both artistic and spiritual: he successfully brought 70s rock and roll sounds to traditional reggae music and created a then-new roots rocker reggae sound that defines most popular modern expectations of what reggae music is today. Marley also spearheaded a return to the spiritual, Rastafarian roots of Caribbean music, raising it from popular music to an uplifting clarion call for social and moral change. Bob Marley’s messages echoed beyond the borders of his tiny home island of Jamaica, resonating with audiences around the globe. His merging of rock and reggae was so successful that Bob Marley was inducted into the United States’ Rock N Roll Hall of Fame even though he never released a #1 hit single in America.
Bob Marley was born in 1945 and lived until 1981. During that time (and after his death), Bob Marley and his band The Wailers released 13 studio albums, 4 live albums, and 10 compilation albums. Bob Marley and The Wailers are believed to have sold nearly a quarter of a billion records around the world, though the statistics are vague because they weren’t collected until 1991, long after Marley had passed away.
Bob Marley’s official website acknowledges that he had 11 children, including contemporary reggae music stars David “Ziggy” Marley, Stephen Marley, Julian Marley, Ky-Mani Marley, and Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley.
You can learn more about Bob Marley in this series of articles detailing his life, researched and written by Dubconscious guitarist James Keane, who grew up with more than 1 Bob Marley poster on his walls.
- Bob Marley Biography – 1945-1969 tells of Marley’s childhood and the formation of the Wailers, as well as their initial struggles to succeed as musicians.
- Bob Marley Biography – 1970-1976 tells the story of Marley and the Wailer’s transition to a global scene.
- Bob Marley Biography – 1977-1981 tells the story of Marley’s fame and massive creative output, as well as his final years.
The primary reference for the 3 Bob Marley articles in this series is an excellent book, Bob Marley: Reggae King of the World by Malika Lee Whitney and Dermott Hussey, with a foreward by Rita Marley.
(You can also read our list of the best Bob Marley quotes it’s a long list and we’re looking for more quotes to add to it!)
Bob Marley began singing with Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer as one of the original Wailing Wailers. They followed a path similar to many great reggae musicians, including Burning Spear, Joseph Hill of Culture, The Abyssinians, The Skatalites, Ken Boothe, John Holt, and Alton Ellis, at Studio One, under the guidance of Coxsone Dodd. From there they struck out on their own, carving a path from early ska tracks to later rock steady songs of a slower tempo, and finally rock-influenced roots reggae notable for slower tempos and rich melodies and notable for their Rastafarian messages.
Marley was awarded numerous honors during and after his lifetime, including Rolling Stone’s 1976 Band of the Year award, the United Nations Peace Medal of the 3rd World, the Jamaican Order of Merit, Time Magazine’s Album of the Century, a posthumous Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and BBC’s Song of the Millennium. In 2010 his Catch a Fire album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Now, almost 30 years after his death, Bob Marley is still widely regarded as the King of Reggae. Through his songs, Marley applied his spiritual message to all types of situations, from the aggressive Get Up, Stand Up to his pacifistic One Love. As a result, his music appeals to listeners of all ages and colors, around the world. Similarly, he remains one of the biggest evangelists of Rastafari consciousness across the globe. His music and spirituality continue to influence musicians of every stripe, from dub, reggae, and dancehall to rock, hip hop, and pop artists.