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Thursday, 10 May, 2001, 23:23 GMT 00:23 UK
Marley's legend undiminished
Bob Marley on stage
Bob Marley, as many people remember him
Friday is the 20th anniversary of the death of Rastafarian reggae singer Bob Marley. The BBC's Helen Salter takes a look back at his music career.

On 11 May 1981 Bob Marley died of a cancerous brain tumour in a Miami hospital.

His funeral a few days later in Jamaica would have been worthy of a king. Hundreds of thousands of people, including the prime minister, were present.

During his life, Marley had brought Rastafarianism and reggae music to an international audience.

In his native Jamaica he was not only seen as a musician, he was a legend.

Jamaican broadcaster Jeremy Verity said once: "The fact that Bob Marley was what he was and that he was a Rastafarian and that he wore the locks and that he lived a certain way right up to his death, and was at the same time a great musician and artist...

Bob Marley live
Live version of No Woman No Cry is legendary
"It validates for Jamaicans their belief that they could be something good, that after 450 years of being told you are nothing, that you are not important, you are the end of the earth, for Jamaicans the fact that Bob Marley made it big in the outside world is a validation."

Marley was born in Jamaica on 6 February 1945, the son of a British Army officer and a Jamaican woman.

His father left Bob's mother when Bob was still very young and Marley accompanied his mother to the capital, Kingston, in her search for work.

That exposed him to the music that would influence him and he joined music classes run by the famous Joe Higgs.

Marley, like many other young Jamaicans, saw music as a possible escape from the daily harshness of his life.

He formed various groups of musicians made up friends and family members. Finally the band the Wailers was born.

Bob Marley's word, his sound, every phrase that he sings has a crucial importance to them, it's rather like Bob Dylan was in the 1960s

James Fox, writer
Over several years the Wailers worked hard at their music and became very popular in their home country.

In the early 1970s Marley travelled to London, shortly followed by the rest of the Wailers, where they were signed by Island Records boss Chris Blackwell.

The band flew back to Jamaica and immediately began recording the album Catch A Fire. It was one of the first reggae albums and was well received by critics and fans.

As 1973 came to an end, the Wailers released their second album Burnin', featuring hits like I Shot The Sheriff and Get Up, Stand Up.

Marley, as the main songwriter, soon established himself as the group leader and the band was renamed Bob Marley and the Wailers in 1973.

Eric Clapton's cover version of I Shot The Sheriff reached number one in the US and further advanced the popularity of Marley and the Wailers.

Writer James Fox remembered the effect Marley's music had on his growing army of fans.

Black people are suffering all over the earth and when you check it you know that black people must unite

Bob Marley
"I think they follow him extremely closely. I think Bob Marley's word, his sound, every phrase that he sings has a crucial importance to them, it's rather like Bob Dylan was in the 1960s."

Throughout his career Marley fought for the rights of black people.

In one speech he said: "Black people are suffering all over the earth and when you check it you know that black people must unite."

In 1975 the now legendary album Natty Dread was released, including tracks such as No Woman No Cry and Revolution.

By 1976 reggae mania had taken over in the US. Marley had also become very popular in Britain - the now famous live version of No Woman No Cry recorded at London's Lyceum Ballroom became a worldwide hit.

Bob Marley
Bob Marley played Top of the Pops
Jamaican journalist Robin Denselow recalled the power of Marley's stage act when he returned to the London stage in the mid-70s to record that live version.

"His music started developing with his religion, so when he came back in 1975, 1976 when his live album was recorded at the Lyceum, which I think was the greatest show he ever did that I saw, there was a total transformation."

He said Marley had become an "extraordinary, riveting figure on stage" with tuneful, powerful songs accessible to white audiences.

Lucky escape

In December 1976, two days before a planned free concert for peace in Kingston, a gunman broke into Marley's home and fired shots at him, his wife and two friends.

No-one was killed and Marley went ahead with the show.

The band then left for London, where they recorded the album Exodus, solidifying an international reputation.

It went to number one in many countries.

During an ensuing European Tour Marley was diagnosed with cancer and the tour was cancelled, but Marley refused to give up recording.

On 15 June 1978 he was awarded the United Nations' Peace Medal of the Third World and later travelled to Africa for the first time.

In 1980 the Zimbabwean government invited Marley and the Wailers to perform at the country's independence ceremony. Marley regarded that as the biggest honour of his life.

Reggae singer Bob Marley
Twelve albums are being reissued
By 1980, Marley's health was deteriorating, but he still managed to embark on a planned US tour.

However, while jogging in Central Park he collapsed and was taken to hospital.

A brain tumour was diagnosed and he was given a month to live. Despite pleas from his wife to cancel the tour, the singer went on stage in Pittsburgh.

Unable to continue, his wife finally cancelled the tour.

That was the last show by Bob Marley and the Wailers.

Marley travelled to Germany for controversial cancer treatment, but it proved unsuccessful and he wanted to travel home to die in Jamaica.

He never made it and his body was flown back from Miami to Jamaica where he was posthumously awarded Jamaica's Order of Merit.

The BBC's Yvette Rowe in Kingston
"Marley's home village is a shrine and tourist attraction"
See also:

28 Mar 01 | Music
Early Marley music reissued
10 Oct 98 | Americas
Legend lives on
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