Anniversary, Rastafarian: Mark 30 years since Bob Marley

WEDNESDAY, MAY 11: Turn up the reggae and pay tribute to Bob Marley today, as fans worldwide mark 30 years since the death of the music legend. Born in a tiny Jamaican village in 1945 and raised Catholic, this Jamaican musician would bring reggae and the Rastafarian faith to an international audience as no other artist has done. (Learn more at

Despite his meager beginnings and an early death at age 36, Bob Marley left an impression on the world in a legacy that will soon outlast his lifespan. (The Guardian covered his death in 1981.) 

Bob Marley’s life began in a culturally and socially corrupt Jamaica, and several of his later hits—including “Get Up, Stand Up”—would stem from his early life experiences and political views. As the son of a white Jamaican man and Afro-Jamaican woman, Marley would also liken his identity as an interracial man to a mission to unite people of all races. (The Vancouver Sun has a tribute article with more.)

Marley’s interest in music began early, and after dropping out of school at 14 to produce music, he went on to record his first major album with friends in 1973. Interestingly, reggae’s best-selling album—a compilation entitled “Legend”—was released after Marley’s death, selling 25 million copies worldwide and going 10 times Platinum in the U.S. (Wikipedia has details.)

Marley converted to the Rastafari movement in the 1960s and, as Wikipedia points out in its overview of the movement, it’s hard to name a more prominent evangelist for the religious group. Although he died in 1981 and the current detailed outline of Rastafari doctrines was only codified in the 1980s, much of Marley’s music became hymns of the developing movement.

Though some debate the nature of his influence on Jamaica’s youth today, the reggae star has hardly faded: Visitors continue to flock to his house, now a museum, and numerous shirts, mugs, albums and other memorabilia are still sold bearing his face, music and message. This week, “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” will pay tribute to Marley with five musicians—Ziggy, Chris Cornell, Jennifer Hudson, Jakob Dylan and Lenny Kravitz—performing Marley songs throughout the week. (Entertainment Weekly has an article.)

Originally published at, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.

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