The Queen of Reggae
All over the world, the Marley name has become synonymous with reggae music, rastafari and Jamaica. It is no coincidence that the talented young Rita Anderson, born in Cuba (July 25, 1946) and raised from an early age in Trenchtown JA, was destined to become an integral part of the musical Marley family. Rita has been a principal figure on the music scene for over 30 years, when the foundation of contemporary Jamaican music was formed, and has maintained a prominent role.
It was in the early sixties that her musical career began as a vocalist with the all-female singing group, The Soulettes, who have appeared with the Four Tops, Johnny Nash and numerous other stars. She would soon make the acquaintance of a local Trenchtown youth, Robert Nesta Marley, who was also answering a musical c alling. Music became their bond.
Enduring the hardships of the initial years of the Jamaican music industry together, Bob and Rita never turned back. By the early seventies, they developed the I-Three, Jamaica’s three leading female singers (Rita Marley, Judy Mowatt, Marcia Griffiths), to provide support harmonies for Bob Marley & the Wailers, who had become the first reggae act to garnish an international record contract. Their horizons quickly expanded to the world stage and the songs of love, hope, unity, and struggle became the mothership that transported reggae music, the message of Rastafari, and the culture of the people of Jamaica to the four corners of the earth.
Rita was ever-present throughout the stages of Bob’s career – the victories as well as the trials. She was beside Bob three days before the Smile Jamaica Concert 1976, when they were both wounded in an ambush at the rehearsal studio (56 Hope Road – now the Bob Marley Museum). Bob was shot in the arm and Rita was grazed by a bullet to the head. Risking their lives, both courageously appeared in concert, in spite of their injuries. She was on stage with Bob at the One Love Concert when, during one of his most dynamic and sensational performances, Bob symbolically joined the hands of Michael Manley and Edward Seaga (leaders of Jamaica’s opposing political parties), illuminating Rastafari as the true peacemakers of the island. Rita was there at Bob’s most triumphant moment, when he sang for the people of Zimbabwe at their first Independence Celebration in 1980. The powerful energy created by this musical force came to an abrupt and untimely standstill when Bob Marley died of cancer in 1981. The world trembled and wept. Rita wept, but soon dried her tears, perhaps remembering the now prophetic lyrics of “No Woman, Nuh Cry”, and realizing that her responsibility as mother, wife and heir to the Marley legacy was to raise the banner, to ‘carry on’ the work that Bob had begun.
Rita has worn many hats to manifest her continued commitment to Bob, her family and her people, as well as to fulfill her mission to enlighten, educate and entertain through her music. Her children (The Grammy award winning Ziggy Marley & the Melody Makers), Tuff Gong International (the answer to America’s Motown), Rita Marley Music, the I-Three, the Bob Marley Museum and its associated business enterprises, and the annual Bob Marley day celebrations are just a few of the countless duties that have sustained her status as a spirited force and an ambassador of reggae music. As Rita puts it, “Reggae is the heartbeat of a person. It’s the people’s music. Everywhere you go, you get the same response from black to white alike.”
In 1982, the Bob Marley Performing Centre (Montego Bay, Jamaica ) played host to the World Music Festival, where Rita Marley secured her title as the Queen of Reggae among other top notch entertainers like Gladys Knight and the Pips, Aretha Franklin, Rick James, Stacy Latticaw, along with Jamaican legends such as Peter Tosh, Toots & the Maytals, Jimmy Cliff, Black Uhuru, as well as leading disciples of crossover music including, the Grateful Dead, the Beach Boys, the Clash, Joe Jackson, the English Beat and Squeeze. “I love that other groups use reggae,” exclaims Rita, “I truly believe that music belongs to the universe.” The festival made musical history in Jamaica and confirmed the island’s prominence in the world of music.
Rita Marley’s career has seen the production of three successful solo albums, Who Feels It, Knows It, Harambe and most recently her 1992 Grammy nomination album, We Must Carry On, as well as the classic reggae album, Beginning with the I-Three. Her sizzling hit “One Draw” created shockwaves around the world, and was a massive bestseller that made music history as the first reggae single to top the Billboard Disco Charts. Her single “Lion and the Lamb” shows the promise to achieve the same heights.
Rita has extensively toured Jamaica, the Caribbean, Africa, Japan, Canada, the Americas, Australia, the U.K., and Europe. Despite the overwhelming responses from audiences all over the world, Rita Marley exclaims, “I’m not a star. I’m a mother, a sister and a woman. I think of myself as an example. I was a young girl who grew up in the ghetto. This can show other young people to work hard and, if they achieve success, how to deal with it. The glitter and the glamour can distract you from your roots.”
She is the benefactor of many humanitarian causes and an outspoken protagonist in the fight against drug abuse (especially in regards to children) and “pushers.” Rita stresses the importance of the preservation of one’s culture and believes that the plant “Cannabis Sativa” (marijuana) with its vast medicinal properties should be used wisely. Her performance at an Anti-Nukes Rally in New York was referred to as “the high point of the event” by Rolling Stone Magazine.
Rita Marley upholds the artistic and cultural standard of Reggae that was set by her husband, the late Hon. Robert Nesta Marley O.M. (1994 Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame Inductee), and continues to take it to new heights. Her music reflects the versatility and diversity of Reggae through smooth blends of Gospel, Rhythm and Blues, Jazz and Soca. About the message in her music, the Queen of Reggae declared ” The message of Joy, loving together; no fighting; no war.”
1998 marked a new era in the unending saga of this phenomenal woman as she moved to include the Rita Marley Foundation as a sister organization of the Bob Marley Foundation. She is the founder of both Foundations which are today housed in the family of Marley Foundations. Gaddy (Grandmother) as she was called during childhood, wife of Bob Marley and grandmother of many children, sees the Foundation as a way for expressing her faith in the future
Moving her residence to Ghana was a natural mystic as Sister Rita was enstooled as Nana Afua Abodea 1, within the Aqwapim region of Ghana. Accompanied by Sister Dhaima Mathews and Mr Everton Bonner, she began the task of working with the Elders and Chiefs towards the provision of a road, a water supply and electrification. An on-going task since then is the development of the school and the community centre. She has also built astate-of-the-art studio in Ghana as a source of inspiration for musicians on the continent. The studio is located in Aburi.
Nana Adobea continues to be an ambassador for Bob (from the Hollywood Walk of Fame to the nomination as a founding member of the UK Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), and an Ambassador of reggae music (performing in Europe, South Africa and Brazil. In 2004, she was awarded the Personality of the Year in Ghana in recognition of her work through the Rita Marley Foundation (as the Minister put it “You have put into reality what your husband Bob Marley… put into lyrics).. She continues her mission of sharing, caring and working together with all Africans, supporting activities in Kenya, Ethiopia and Jamaica.