Thirty years after reggae icon Bob Marley's death, his seeds are still spreading his legacy
Watching Willow Smith and Diggy Simmons making all sorts of nepotistic power moves, one might think it’s easy to follow a famous father into the music business. Sure, it’s nice when dad is an industry bigwig, but what about when your old man transcends music and business? What do you do when you’re the progeny of Robert Nesta Marley? Following in the Tuff Gong’s footsteps is not just about whipping your dreads back and forth, it’s about carrying a legacy of revolutionary music.
After all, how many other artists epitomize an entire genre? You can talk about jazz and mention Louis Armstrong or Miles. You can talk about rock and mention the Beatles or the Stones. You can talk about rap and mention Run-D.M.C. or Jay-Z. But when you talk about reggae, you must mention Bob Marley. His aptly titled 1984 greatest hits collection, Legend, has sold nearly 11 million copies—and that’s not counting its first seven years in stores (before SoundScan was invented).
But Marley’s influence reaches far beyond his records and into the lives of the people he served. He didn’t just sing about the rebels in Zimbabwe—he flew his whole band to Africa to celebrate the day when the former Rhodesia was granted independence from colonial rule. Now, three decades after his passing from melanoma at age 36, the Tuff Gong remains a worldwide icon of liberation. May 11, 2011 marks the 30th anniversary of Marley’s death, yet in some ways it seems like he’s still with us. Much of the credit for his enduring legacy goes to his family.
The Melody Makers—comprising Marley kids Ziggy, Stephen, Cedella and Sharon—made its debut in 1979, recording Bob’s song “Children Playing in the Street.” They even performed the first of many tribute concerts following their father’s funeral, and went on to record 10 albums and win three Grammys. Ziggy and Stephen have since branched off as solo artists, and their brothers from other mothers Julian, Kymani and Damian, have all carved out successful recording careers for themselves.