Bob Marley died 34 years ago this week. Marley was born in Jamaica in February 1945 and died on May 11, 1981 as a result of cancer. Marley was just 36-years-old at the time of his death. To this day, Bob Marley’s birth and death dates are celebrated around the world; his birthday is a national holiday in his native Jamaica. Thirty-four years after his death Marley’s legacy lives on, and there is scarcely a music fan in the world who is not aware of Marley’s music.
Marley was arguably the world’s first globally recognized black superstar. He brought the feel and joy of reggae music to the white middle classes and was adopted worldwide as a symbol of love, freedom, and peaceful revolution. According to Forbes, Marley ranks at number five in the list of top-earning deceased celebrities.
Billboard claims that in the years since Marley’s death, he has become the most-recognized musician on the planet. His image appears on everything from T-shirts to headphones to coffee beans and, of course, his image is often used to promote marijuana for both recreational and medicinal use. Marley’s former home is one of Jamaica’s top tourist attractions.
When Marley was laid to rest, it was widely reported that three items were placed with him in his casket. According to Music Mic it is these three items, his red Gibson Les Paul guitar, a bible opened to Psalm 23, and a stalk of marijuana, that are the key to Marley’s endurance and importance as an artist.
Marley celebrated the use of marijuana and spirituality, but it was his faith that music had the power to unite people and to bring people together in a spirit on “One Love” that is perhaps his most important legacy. Through his music, Marley tried to teach that people should be one, regardless of race, color, or creed. Music Mic claims that sets Marley apart because since his death, no musician has “managed to take up his revolutionary legacy.”
“No one has been able to create music as universally evocative and politically incisive as Marley’s. No one has become an international symbol for liberation and peace to the same degree as Marley has.”
In his song lyrics, Marley reveals his revolutionary spirit. In “Redemption Song,” Bob tells us to “emancipate yourselves from mental slavery; none but ourselves can free our minds.” Above all, it is a call to arms, something he repeats in “Get Up, Stand Up” where he reminds us that we have to stand up for our rights. The responsibility is ours and ours alone.
Marley’s music stood as a beacon for the oppressed across the globe in a way that no artist since has managed. It is arguably this that sets him apart as the most important black artist ever.