Lioness of Reggae:Three Questions with Rita Marley: Island Stage Exclusive
In association with Tuff Gong WorldWide
Written by: Shelah Moody and Susan Underwood
Her life is literally an inspirational song set to a soulful, syncopated beat.
If anyone deserves the title, “Lioness of Reggae” Music, it is the honorable Rita Marley, O.D. During the rise of reggae music and Rastafarian consciousness in the early sixties, a young single mother and aspiring vocalist from Santiago, Cuba, met a passionate and visionary musician from Trenchtown, Jamaica. His name was Robert Nesta (Bob) Marley; she called him Robbie. And then the world changed.
The union between Alpharita Anderson and Bob Marley produced three beautiful children –Cedella, Davd, “Ziggy” and Stephen Marley (Bob adopted her daughter, Sharon Marley , as his own) and two decades of music together.
As a member of the I -Threes, Rita Marley, along with Judy Mowatt and Marcia Griffiths –established vocalists in their own right–toured and recorded with Bob Marley and the Wailers and provided the sweet, soulful harmonies and refrains that shaped their international sound.
Although she is often credited as a backing vocalist for Bob Marley and the Wailers, Mrs. Marley was right beside, not behind, Bob Marley as he became the world’s biggest and most beloved music star. It was indeed Rita Marley who caught a live glimpse of Emperor Haile Selassie, I, upon his visit to Jamaica in 1966, and reported her spiritual awakening to her young husband, who had gone ahead to Delaware to earn money for the family. On Dec. 3, 1976, when gunmen shot up Bob Marley’s compound at 56 Hope Road, Mrs. Marley was also shot as she protected her children.
Through the fire, Mrs. Marley also forged a solo career of her own.
Mrs. Marley’s ebullient, gospel inspired soprano vocals have graced albums such as “Who Feels It Knows It,” “Harambe,” We Must Carry On,” nominated for a 1992 Grammy, “Spectacle For Tribuffalos” and “Beginning,” with the I-Threes.” Mrs. Marley is arguably the first woman to produce an international ganja track, with the controversial “One Draw.”
On May 3, the Marley family label, Tuff Gong Worldwide, will release ‘The Best of Rita Marley: Lioness of Reggae,” a career retrospective of her best known material, exclusively on vinyl. Tracks include:
2. One Draw
3. A Jah Jah
4. That’s The Way
5. Who Feels It Knows It
6. King Street
7. Thank You Jah
8. Good Morning Jah
9. I’m Still Waiting
10. Play Play
“I felt this was a project that needed to be done, her musical legacy, message and vibe is unique to her and an important part of reggae’s history. This is a way for us to highlight and share her beautiful art”, said Ziggy Marley.
Mrs. Marley is also a known philanthropist who has spearheaded projects to alleviate poverty in Jamaica and Ghana. She is the author of an acclaimed autobiography, “No Woman, No Cry,” (Hyperion Books, 2004). This year, Mrs. Marley, 72, and the I-Threes were honored with a Jamaican Music Industry Association award. (see link).
In anticipation of the release of “Lioness of Reggae,” Island Stage connected with Ms. Marley for an exclusive interview.
Island Stage: What are your favorite tracks on the album? Tell us about them.
Rita Marley: “That’s the Way” was written at a point in my life when I knew I was being led by a spiritual guidance and life was unfolding with a divine timing. Of course “One Draw” is now an iconic song, but at the time of its original release, there was resistance from radio stations in Jamaica and abroad to playing the record.”
IS: How did it feel to receive the 2019 JaRIA award, along with your long time I-Three sisters?
Rita Marley: “I have been blessed to enjoy a successful career as both an individual and as part of a sisterhood with the I-Threes. The award is a symbol of years of hard work, sweet music, and sweet memories.”
IS: What advice do you offer your children, and other aspiring artists?
RM: “I taught my children that prayer and working hard is what allows you to make the most of your natural talent; and they have made a great impact on the world in their own right. Today, I see that their example lives on in their children (my grandchildren) as they launch their own careers, so that advice is just as relevant today.”