Marley was born in Jamaica in 1945, and his music was inspired by the place where he grew up. He struggled with his own identity. His father was a white plantation owner and often absent even though he was married to Marley's Jamaican mother. He identified himself as an African, and his music reflected his strong beliefs in restoring the rights of those taken from their homelands.
He quit school at 14 to pursue music, playing with local Rastafarian musicians. At 18, he formed The Wailers, a predominately ska band. He embraced the Rastafarian lifestyle and began growing his trademark dreadlocks. Over the next ten years, the band would record a few albums, and move toward a more reggae sound. He was a powerful figure in Jamaica, and quickly became the spokesman for the Rastafarian movement.
Finally, in 1974, with the release of the Burnin' album, Marley got some international attention. Eric Clapton covered I Shot the Sheriff and Get Up, Stand Up started seeing a heavier radio rotation. The Wailers were offered the chance to open for Sly and the Family Stone, but we fired after a few performances because they were more popular than the band they were supposed to be supporting. The Wailers broke up shortly thereafter.
Marley found new band mates and kept recording. No Woman, No Cry would become his first international hit in 1975. Marley, his wife and his manager were shot by an intruder in his home in Jamaica. Marley left for England and continued recording and performing. He wouldn't return to Jamaica until 1978, and during his concert, the two fighting parties called a truce, the leaders shaking hands on stage.
His songs weren't just music, they were politically charged messages to the people. Fighting against oppression, fighting for justice, fighting for the poor, calling for peace. He gave voice to those without one, he brought power to the people.
Every man gotta right to decide his own destiny. ~ Bob Marley
Marley died of cancer in 1981 at the age of 36, and received full State honors for his burial in Jamaica. Redemption Song is widely thought to be about is coming to terms with his own mortality, as it was recorded after his diagnosis. Though the government there had long opposed the Rastafarian movement and the message of his music, they adopted his song of unity, One Love, as the theme song of the tourism board.
His legacy is a great one, though his life was short. He spread music about peace and harmony throughout the world. He influenced ska, rock, r&b and pop. He brought reggae to the masses. He was a cultural force that can't be denied.
His music is as relevant today as it was when he recorded it. One of the things I miss the most about living in San Diego was 91X's Mandatory Marley every day, though I hear they no longer do it.
At his posthumous induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Robert Palmer said this:
No one in rock and roll has left a musical legacy that matters more or one that matters in such fundamental ways.