Bob Marley , in full Robert Nesta Marley (born February 6, 1945, Nine Miles, St. Ann, Jamaica—died May 11, 1981, Miami, Florida, U.S.), Jamaican singer-songwriter whose thoughtful ongoing distillation of early ska, rock steady, and reggae musical forms blossomed in the 1970s into an electrifying rock-influenced hybrid that made him an international superstar.
Marley—whose parents were Norval Sinclair Marley, a white rural overseer, and the former Cedella Malcolm, the black daughter of a local custos (respected backwoods squire)—would forever remain the unique product of parallel worlds. His poetic worldview was shaped by the countryside, his music by the tough West Kingston ghetto streets. Marley’s maternal grandfather was not just a prosperous farmer but also a bush doctor adept at the mysticism-steeped herbal healing that guaranteed respect in Jamaica’s remote hill country. As a child Marley was known for his shy aloofness, his startling stare, and his penchant for palm reading. Virtually kidnapped by his absentee father (who had been disinherited by his own prominent family for marrying a black woman), the preadolescent Marley was taken to live with an elderly woman in Kingston until a family friend rediscovered the boy by chance and returned him to Nine Miles.
By his early teens Marley was back in West Kingston, living in a government-subsidized tenement in Trench Town, a desperately poor slum often compared to an open sewer. In the early 1960s, while a schoolboy serving an apprenticeship as a welder (along with fellow aspiring singer Desmond Dekker), Marley was exposed to the languid, jazz-infected shuffle-beat rhythms of ska, a Jamaican amalgam of American rhythm and blues and native mento (folk-calypso) strains then catching on commercially. Marley was a fan of Fats Domino, the Moonglows, and pop singer Ricky Nelson, but, when his big chance came in 1961 to record with producer Leslie Kong, he cut “Judge Not,” a peppy ballad he had written based on rural maxims learned from his grandfather. Among his