Bob Marley is arguably the most famous reggae singer of all time. He came from Jamaica during a time when poverty and injustice were nearly unavoidable, allowing him to write rebellious songs about struggles and social issues that were based on very real experience. Yet his music was not that of the downtrodden, but rather that of someone who believed that people had the ability to empower themselves as well as each other. He believed that music was a tool through which peace could be made achievable. His revolutionary spirit and humanitarian beliefs are as much a part of his continued influence as the music itself.
Marley did not simply sing about empowerment, but strove to achieve it as well. In fact, his life was almost lost to an assassination attempt due to his influence on the politics of Jamaica. His musical influence was just as strong, and many people around the globe were exposed to reggae almost entirely because of Marley’s impact on the music world. His musical impact and social influence were often combined in songs such as “Exodus” and “Redemption Song,” not to mention the incredibly popular “Get Up, Stand Up.” He also released notable songs such as “I Shot the Sheriff,” “One Love/People Get Ready,” and the lighter, more celebratory song “Jamming.”
Active from 1962 until his death due to melanoma in 1981, Marley’s songs often reflected his religious influences. He had been Catholic throughout most of the beginning of his life, and there are biblical themes in some of his songs (most notably “Exodus”). However, he adopted Rastafarianism in 1966, which had a great impact on his worldview and his concept of unity. His ideas regarding unity can be heard in the song “One Love,” which is often combined with Marley’s take on the Curtis Mayfield classic “People Get Ready,” originally performed by the Impressions.
Marley did not work alone. He had a close relationship with the Wailers, a ska band originally created by Marley and his associates, Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh. These original members eventually left the band in 1974, at which point Marley had to find new musicians to back his music. Marley may have been the primary name associated with the band, and he was certainly the one who became the most famous, but much of his career might not have been possible if he did not have talented musicians lending their craft to his most notable singles.
Bob Marley continues to influence musicians and free thinkers alike to this day. Both before and even long after his death, he has received numerous accolades. The United Nations bestowed upon him the Peace Medal of the Third World in 1978, and he received the Jamaican Order of Merit the year that he died. Thirteen years after his death, he received a posthumous induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Twenty years after his death, he was added to the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and he received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award that same year. The BBC has also named “One Love” the song of the millennium, as well as voting him to be one of the greatest lyricists to have ever lived. In short, while he would not live long into the 1980s, his music and worldview has continued to inspire people well into the new millennium.
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