21 Things You Don’t Know About Bob Marley

21 Things You Don’t Know About Bob Marley April 1, 2008


1. Bob’s father was a 50-year-old white British naval captain named Norval Sinclair Marley. Bob’s mom, a black country village girl named Cedella, was 19 when, in the small Jamaican village of Nine Mile in Saint Ann Parish, Bob was born at 2:30 in the morning on Feb. 6, 1945. Imagine how happy Cedella’s father was to discover his daughter had been sleeping with an old white man named Norval. Imagine how thrilled Norval’s family of racist colonialists was to learn the same thing.

2. Norval instructed Cedella to name the baby boy that was hers (and, he made clear, hers alone) Nesta Robert. So she did. “Robert” was the name of Norval’s brother.

3. Nobody knows to whom or what “Nesta” referred. Whatever its significance, it was important enough for Norval to make sure that Cedella spelled it right before he moved away.

4. As a little kid, Bob had a knack for deeply spooking people by successfully predicting their futures by reading their palms. At seven, having just returned to his rural village after a year spent living in the ghettos of Kingston (Jamaica’s capital), he declared that from then on he would cease to read palms. His new destiny, he said, was to become a singer. For the rest of his life, whenever someone who knew him back when asked him to read their palms, he resolutely refused.

5. A Jamaican immigration official suggested to Bob’s mom that “Nesta” sounded too much like a girl’s name. So they switched his name to Robert Nesta Marley.

6. “Tuff Gong,” the name of Bob’s recording label, was a nickname Bob earned for himself in the Kingston ghetto of Trenchtown (so named because it was built over an old drainage trench) for being exactly the wrong guy to screw with. Ever.

7. Bob was a devout Rastafarian. Ras Tafari is the name of a man who was crowned King of Ethiopia in 1930. With that crown came the honorific name Haile Selassie. Rastafarians thought this “Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah” was the messiah, come to redeem the black man. (Although true believers hold that all people are welcomed into the arms of Jehovah—whom Rastas call “Jah.”) Though doctrinally a legitimate sect of Orthodox Christianity, Rastafari can be difficult for non-Jamaicans to grasp. The one thing everybody does get is that Rastafarians smoke dope and wear dreadlocks (which put dread in the heart of the oppressors, see). Old Testament devotees, the Rastas smoke because Psalm 104:14 says: “He causeth . . . herb [to be grown] for the service of man . . . .” Their hairstyle comes from Leviticus 21:5: “They shall not make baldness upon their head.”

8. Nobody really knows what the word “reggae” means, or how it originated.

9. When Bob was twenty-one, he lived in Delaware for seven months. During that time he worked the night shift at a Chrysler plant (about which he wrote in his song, “Night Shift”), drove a forklift in a factory, and worked as a lab assistant for DuPont Chemical (!). When he was a kid, one of Bob’s regular chores was to hike five miles through rugged country to fetch firewood. Work was never a problem for Marley. He was famous for making his band rehearse hours and hours after any normal person would have dropped exhausted to the floor.

10. Bob, who at twenty-one married a beautiful Trenchtown Sunday school teacher named Rita (and stayed married to her until his death did they part), fathered an untold number of kids by an untold number of women. The general estimate puts the number of Marley’s progeny at around twenty. The way he could tell his children, he said, was by the way each spoke out of the side of his or her mouth, the way he did.

11. Bob’s mother had a child by Bunny Wailer’s dad when they were all living together in Trenchtown. That’s how close Bob and Bunny were.

12. Bunny Livingston (a.k.a. Bunny Wailer)’s given name is Neville O’Riley Livingston. (One of the original members of Bob Marley and the Wailers, Bunny was Bob’s brilliant percussionist, and a splendid back-up and lead singer.)

13. Peter Tosh’s given name was Winston Hubert McIntosh. “The Toughest,” as Tosh was known, was murdered in his home on Friday, September 11, 1987, by a 32-year-old hoodlum acquaintance of his named Leppo. (Tosh was a guitarist in The Wailers, and a very important reggae singer/songwriter in his own right.)

14. The first record Bob cut was called “Judge Not.” On its label his name was misspelled as “Bob Morley.” Working at the time in a tin shack as a master welder, Bob, 17, spent most of his pay in a rum-joint jukebox up the street in which his song was a selection. He played his record so often that finally the owner of the place yanked the record out of the jukebox and demanded that Bob leave, and never come back.

15. When Bob discovered that the reason he was still poor after being so famous for so long was that his long-time manager and friend Don Taylor had been robbing him blind, Bob beat Don to within an inch of his life. Then he fired him.

16. In July 1973, Bob and the Wailers opened a week of gigs for Bruce Springsteen. Later that year, they joined a 17-city tour of Sly and the Family Stone’s. After four shows, Sylvester Stone fired them for being too good and hogging all the adoration.

17. For a long time Bob drove a BMW—which, as far as he was concerned, stood for Bob Marley and the Wailers.

18. Bob was a professional level soccer player. Played a wicked game of ping-pong, too.

19. Bob once said: “America is pure deviltry, dem t’ings dat go on there. Dem just work with force and brutality. Dem lock out the punk thing because they see something happening. So the oppressors bring another man to blind the youth to the truth, and dem call him-John Tra-vol-ta.”

20. Bob died of cancer (brain, liver, stomach, lungs) on May 11, 1981. He was thirty-six years old. In one day, 40,000 people filed past his coffin as his body lay in state in Jamaica’s National Arena. And that’s just the number of people who got inside.

21. One of Bob’s most popular songs, “No Woman, No Cry,” is today sung as a lullaby to babies all over the world.

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  • Arnette

    Thanks, John! This is too cool. I've loved his music and knew bits and pieces about him but this really tells the story. Once they figure out which movie will be made (Rita's or Ziggy's) I'm going to see it. I'm going to Google Rastafarian now so I can learn more.

  • Don' worry about a thing 'cause every little t'ing gonna be alright…

    You made me have to go look up the real name of this song! (Three Little Birds)

    Is it bad that everything my kids know about Bob Marley is from the movie Shark Tale?!?!

    I love the scene in I am Legend where Will Smith's character talks about Bob Marley

    Whoa-that's alot of Will Smith reference for one comment!!!

  • Interesting – I always loved his music.

    I'm not sure if this part is a "fact"…

    "Though doctrinally a legitimate sect of Orthodox Christianity, Rastafarianism can be extremely difficult faith for non-Jamaicans to fathom."

    They do appear to teach "another" gospel:


  • This is too eerie…I'd been walking around all weekend with "I Shot the Sheriff" stuck in my head. Now I'll never get it out.

    Interesting facts, though.

  • Thanks for sharing. Good bit of info.

  • Cool stuff. I didn't know any of that. I am just now warming up to reggae. I think the new perspective you've given me is gonna help.

  • John,

    After all that, now I wish I’d seen him in concert. Ziggy Marley played a double bill with the B-52s once (1993) that was a hoot.


  • kayla

    'who is bob marley

  • Thanks for the interesting facts about Bob Marley. Lots of stuff here that I did not know. I did know about number 16 because I write about this incident in my book about Sly Stone. Check it out at http://www.lulu.com/content/1412956

  • Shell

    To Kayla–"GASP!" You owe it to yourself to go find out right now.

  • I figured she was kidding. But … maybe not??!!

  • Sabina


  • You’re welcome. Thank you. I put up another post too soon after this one — which means, of course, that this one is likely to go largely unread. So I appreciate all these kind comments. Marley lead such a fascinating life–and was such a bizarre kind of musical genius. As are all musical geniuses, of course.

  • arlywn

    I loved the bob marley music at the end of I Am Legend. My coworkers and I would walk into the theater a minute or two before the movie let out just to catch the songs at the end. It was awesome.

  • Nano

    this is the best documental a read before.


  • Marcie

    Most importantly, Bob Marley’s most humanitarian deed to end all Wars and bring Peace and love to the world!

  • Most importantly, indeed! Thanks for saying that.

  • Latoya

    Hey John, great article. I have always wondered this..what is it that other countries seems to find so fascinating about Reggae and Bob Marley? (there are people all around the world who dont know jamaica exists, but once you say Bob Marley they say Oooooooh!) Hey, maybe you could write an article about it 😀

  • Your wrong! Norval's brother's name first name was Nesta not Robert.Robert was his middle name.

  • Edith Marley, Norval Marley's mother, had two sons: Norval, and Robert.

    This is from the biography, "Bob Marley," by Stephen Davis (Doubleday, 1985): "The Malcoms [being the family of Bob's mother, Cedella] didn't name the baby [being baby Bob], but waited for the boy's father to return from Kingston, and shortly after word was gotten to him that his wife in the country had delivered a son, Norval Marley came back to St. Ann for a week. He named the boy Nesta Robert Marley. The name Robert was chosen in honor of Norval's brother, and the name Nesta was carefully spelled out for Cedella by Captain Marley without any explanation for why it had been chosen. To this day the name remains something of a mystery to the family."

    But do you have information that Norval's brother Robert was named Nesta Robert? If so, where did you get that information?

  • One love.

  • My son, who loves Bob Marley's music, told me that Bob Marley's cancer started on his big toe. Is that true? Interesting entry.

  • Jerri: It's been awhile since I was studying Bob, but as I recall that's exactly right. He hurt his toe in one of his epic soccer matches with his friends; the wound didn't heal; he finally went to a doctor about it (after, I believe, his toenail fell off); it was discovered that he had malignant melanoma in his toe. He was told amputating that toes would be wise, but not keeping the body whole is contrary to Rastafarian beliefs, so he declined. Later, of course, he was found to have cancer throughout his body, which eventually killed him.

  • Cat Mahoney


    needed this for my music homework 😀

    lol, i didnt know anything about bob marley, now i know loads more than i needed.

    thanksssss x

  • Greer

    I am only 12 but i love bob marley !!! i have to do a report about him!!! and i am only in the 6th grade!but i dont care i love him sooooooooooooo much!!!!!!!

    soooooooooo thank you a lot i wish he was still alive!!!=) :0

  • Send me your report when you’re done with it, okay? Just cut and paste it into the box you’ll find at the “About Me” tab on the top of this blog.

  • hey ! sir. your good!!! i wish i was you!! i wish i can create articles like yours can you give some tips please.. this is my email address – jsg1011@yahoo.com i wish you can give advice to be an effective blogger! ;)♣ have a good day!

  • feb. 6 baby

    about bob's cancer he actually lived with it for two years beacause of his religious beleives that being only eat natural foods from the earth and smoke sensimilla as a form of meditation. the doctors gave him less than a year to live but because of the cancer fighting attributes of THC the main chemical substance in marijuana he was able to live past that. ive also read some where he predicted he would die at age 36 so he wrote no women no cry before that for his mother cause he died telling her "momma dont cry" i love bob marley hes a legend and a prophet. im lucky enough to share a birthday with and boy do i have some shoes to fill especially being a musician.

    peace love and respect to all mankind

  • It's worth noting that the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is a Coptic, or Oriental, Orthodox Church. They are not in communion with the worldwide "Eastern" Orthodox Churches, though many Orthodox clergy and laity look to see this division healed.

    It's also worth noting that Bob Marley received Trinitarian baptism from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Some claim that this was a move away from Rastafarianism and into true Christianity.

  • Jamey: Yes, two excellent points. Both completely interesting. Thanks.

  • rhapajap

    jah…rasta…far…i……forever loving jah,,,

  • jcal

    I'm pretty sure Rastafarianism is not a sect of Christianity they're a whole noher religion and have another holy book called the Kebra Negast…they do follow certain aspects of the bible but they believe that Haile Sellassie was the Christ. Even though Haile Sellassie himself was a christian and denounced the title of being God.

  • Rebel

    Yea I know, but there are Rastas outthere that see H.I.M. Just as a GREAT prophet but NOT as Jah/God… So it really depends on what kind of Rasta you are… Feel me?


  • TNFD

  • oooooooooooooooooo yyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

  • Well, the important thing is you haven't let smoking pot interfere with your daily functioning.

  • i love BIG B


  • Tristan

    if you like bob marly you should chek out his son's music. Damiean Marly. GREAT artist!

  • Thanx for this, John.

    As a DJ, I love playing "Jammin'" and calling it a 'praise song', only to have people look at me like I'm nuts – until I sing along with the part where Bob sings "Holy Messiah, Holy Messiah, Just seated on Mount Zion, Who rules all creation…"

    Then, even non-fans capitulate…

  • Daina

    This is exactly how it happened. i had a jamaican boyfriend for 15 months and hes a big fan of bob marley, and this is actually how it happened

  • Daina

    or ziggy!!!!

  • James

    Someone please inform me on what the meaning of these words were.

    “So the oppressors bring another man to blind the youth to the truth, and dem call him-John Tra-vol-ta.”

  • Argy-bargy

    Have you ever seen this movie: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battlefield_Earth_(film) ?

    It was oppressive…and it blinded me.

  • Argy-bargy

    Yeah, I don’t live too far from where he lived and worked in Delaware. A news piece a few years ago interviewed some people in the area who knew him then. He was quite militant even at that point, and the discrimination and hypocrisy he encountered were very influential in his views of America, sorry to say.

    One of his daughters lives north of there in Coatesville, and has had a troubled history of drug abuse and drug peddling.

  • And, Bob Marley was shorter than most people realized. I was shocked when I stood next to him to discover he was shorter than me. He was such a giant onstage.

    He also giggled like a girl when something made him laugh.



  • Www Bradley Montjane

    My deapest and warm appologies for the rude return of your question.

    his leadership for the unity of mankind and his words promote love and peace.

    through his music his legacy for unity will live for those who believe in oneness.

    jah rasta.

  • victor

    you never stood next to him??

  • yeah girl friend

  • tristan

    did he have a deep voice?¿

  • leanna

    go get me my note cards!

    thank you!

  • leanna

    here comes santa clause here comes santa clause rite down santa clause lane!!! oh ya go bob marley!!!!!!!!

  • bill spinks

    thanks for posting the piece — loverly!

  • this was a hudge help on my project on Bob

    Thanka !!!!!!!

  • ravi

    i luv u bob i know wherever u wl b u will rock the floor n let the feet swing “rock the heaven as well as the hell ” they r very luck that they got u “see u soon bob”



  • Jess

    It was well helpful 4 my project and i will tell it to others!

  • Melissa

    I Love Bob Marley He’s The Best :] ` < 3`

  • Val P.

    My daughter loved Bob Marley. Her baby is due in January, a little girl who will be named Layla Marley Zastrow.

  • LSS

    i don’t know if you will see this because of the recent ‘fb disappearing stuff’ strangeness, but maybe here more likely than there? so, i have a question. if i understand your ideas about Hell and the terminology correctly, maybe you are christian universalist? so, assuming that, does it *matter* whether or not Bob Marley (or John Lennon, or Mark Twain, etc.) had an end-of-life conversion? i ask because i am very attracted by that more universalist kind of thiking, and if i end up believing like that, i want to know what i can quit worrying about.

  • Hone

    LSS, with your dumbfounded approach to using your brain, you’ll fit in very well in a religion. One thought that enlightens you on who God really is, is when you ask for FACT. You’ll realise that you are truly your own God, for you are the absolute and powerful ruler of your own being. Don’t be submissive to everyone elses idiocy, just let them be. Morality is all a good man ever needed. And in a society where only 1 in 10 people will jump in to help you if you were attacked by a maniac, prosperity through moralistic justice can only be discovered in man by man’s example.

  • tu madre

    bob marley ^.^

    my cheeck went numb , /:

  • Ave

    Reggae comes from the Latin word regis, rex (same word, different principle parts) meaning “king”. One declension of the noun reads “rege” which is pronounced Reggae.

    There you are, number 8 is false.

  • That’s certainly a credible THEORY. (And why the snark?)

  • LSS

    who are you and why do you feel you have to insult a complete stranger without actually answering the question?

  • Diana A.

    Yeah, I was wondering the same thing.

  • LSS

    also, i wasn’t asking John Shore for the absolute truth to believe it blindly. I was asking an informed opinion from a viewpoint that i am new to. Or that is new to me, whatever.

  • jjjjjj

    no source for any of these?

  • jjjjjj

    i mean that travolta quote is definitely made up, for one

  • No, it’s not. It’s quoted in “Catch a Fire,” Timothy White’s renowned bio of Marley; Bob is also seen saying it in one of the primary documentaries about his life (the title of which I just now can’t recall. It’s the one with the the all-gray, fuzzy-ish cover). You might consider asking before simply accusing.

  • It all comes from Timothy White’s definitive biography of Marley, “Catch a Fire,” and Stephen Davis’ bio of Bob, “Bob Marley.” Hope that satisfies your cranky self.

  • briana

    i love his songs.

  • briana


  • briana

    shattas means ganters in jamacian 🙂 and his son damiean is in it. i like that movie. check it out 🙂

  • briana

    i like your name 🙂

  • DJ Meex

    # 16 is wrong, B. Marley & The Wailers were not ‘fired’ because they were more popular, it’s because Sly (& The Family Stone) realised that the public did not relate to their music.

    Please check this very interesting article from Roger Stephens:


  • JAlkek .

    i like stuf ;D

    bigbottys ;DDDDDD <33333

  • Leo Fustaff Demian

    Bob Marley.. His is kinda ‘buddha’ or ‘jesus’ now a days. I love him.

  • tinsae

    ya man that is very nice thing on the article and i really like it bob is a realy legend

    may jesus keep his soul in da hevean

  • nikita

    dat was very interesting but please more info!!!!!!!!!!!Wicked article!!!!!!

  • Strawberrybabes

    how very intersting.Leart lots of info. Got any more info!! He is a real legend!!!!

  • winston harris

    reggae means dumpling.from alpha boys.that’s what we called dumplings.

  • winston harris



    Bob marley is unforgettable HERO in JAMICA and in the world.pls more information about him

  • Penny Lee Hummel via Facebook

    Bob Marley made some bodacious music..

  • Mauro Moetry via Facebook

    Champion Irie!

  • Mauro Moetry via Facebook

    Thank you for this brilliant information on a master poet from the divine.

  • Funny…I just watched that new documentary yesterday on Bob Marley! He was quite a great guy~

  • Greg Lawson via Facebook

    Coincidentally I am now on the last chapter of “Catch A Fire.” Great read, thanks for sharing this!

  • Cat Anthony Driskell via Facebook

    Great list! I had a Caribbean/African Art History prof who was an admin assistant at the school where she did her doctoral work. She often had to pick up international traveling lecturers, and said that no matter what the country of origin of her car’s passengers, when she popped in ole Bob they all smiled and nodded. His music is more than iconic, it is universal and unifying. Its the kind of art that makes you so proud to be a human being.

  • Eric Rosenfeld

    Number 8 is totally not true. People who were there when reggae started know exactly what the word means. It was the sound of the guitar making a double stroke, down and up, instead of just the single “ska” stroke. But it also means loose and unkempt in Jamaican slang of that time, so it had a double meaning.

  • TheKnowerseeker

    What was the beef between Marley and Travolta? Google isn’t helping….

  • TheKnowerseeker

    Welcome to atheism. It fosters a great attitude, right? (*sarcasm*)

  • Reinulus

    Toots and the Maytals invented the word “Reggae” – you should ask them what it means.

    From Wikipedia: “The Maytals began working with the Chinese Jamaican producer Leslie Kong, a collaboration which yielded a string of hits throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s. These included “Do the Reggay”, one of several songs released in 1968 to first use the word “reggae” (spelled “reggay”) in a Jamaican recording”

  • Lurkis Maximus

    #16: I believe Sly’s last name is Stewart, not Stone

  • Ernst Stavro Blofeld

    Bob was not Rasta in my opinion (notice I said opinion). He supported it but he did not show any indication towards Haile Saliassie being a messiah when he visited and also converted to the EOC. This will be debated until the end of time I’m sure and I do agree he was Rasta in most aspects of his life and music. Either way I still highly respect his contribution to the world, love his music, I’m not Rasta or religious period and am just adding that factual info. Whether or not he is Rasta is up in the air.

  • Steerpike

    Bob was Rasta, and a very dedicated one. He was part of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, which is a rastafari group.
    I actually wonder how you could question that, haven’t you listened to his records?
    He often sings about Haile Selassie referring to him as “his majesty” or Jah (doesn’t only mean God). He even used to play live in front of a giant picture of Ras Tafari.
    There is also an interview that I cannot find right now where he says that when he saw Haile Selassie of his own eyes it made him understand that Marcus Garvey prophecy was true and that Selassie was the black king and reincarnation of God.

  • King Selassie

    Bob didn’t beat Don Taylor to an inch of his life. He was hitting him with a small stick and cursing him because he took a large amount of money from his good friend Burning Spear and himself.