Rita Marley

Rita Marley, Bob Marley’s widow, is best known for carrying on her late husband’s musical legacy and for her own career as a solo artist.


Born in Cuba in 1946, Rita Marley is Bob Marley's widow, and is best known for carrying on her late husband's musical legacy and for her own career as a solo artist. She has six children, three from her marriage to Marley. After his death in 1981, Rita established a charitable organization, the Bob Marley Foundation, to fight poverty and hunger in developing countries.

Early Life

Rita Marley was born Alpharita Constantia Anderson in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba, on July 25, 1947. Called the "Queen of Reggae," Rita Marley has carried on the musical legacy of her late husband, Bob Marley, in addition to continuing to develop her own career as a solo artist. Abandoned by her mother when she was just 5 years old, Rita and her brother, Wesley, were raised by their father and an aunt in the neighborhood of Trench Town, one of Kingston, Jamaica's roughest slums. Their mother raised their other brother, Donovan.

When she was just 13, Rita was left in her aunt's care when her father moved to England to look for work (he reportedly told her that she would join him later, but that move never happened). After high school, Rita attended the Bethesda School of Practical Nursing, but an unexpected pregnancy derailed her education. She had her first child, a daughter named Sharon, in 1964.

Music Career

Starting out by singing along to the radio, Rita Marley eventually began performing with her cousin, Constantine "Dream" Walker, and friend, Marlene "Precious" Gifford. The trio later sang for the Wailing Wailers, a local group made up of Bob Marley, Peter McIntosh (later Peter Tosh) and Bunny Livingston (later Bunny Wailer). The band liked what they heard and got the trio an audition with Clement "Coxsone" Dodd, who ran the Studio One record label. The trio became known as the Soulettes, and Dodd asked Bob Marley to serve as a mentor for the female group. The Soulettes had a hit with the song "I Love You, Baby," and sometimes sang back-up for the Wailers. Rita also had a few solo hits of her own, most notably "Pied Piper."

Marriage to Bob Marley

Over time, Rita and Bob Marley fell in love, and they married in 1966. They welcomed their first child together, daughter Cedella, in 1967. The following year, the couple had their first son, David, who is now best known as Ziggy Marley. Rita and Bob couple struggled both financially and professionally. They spent some time in the United States, working for singer Johnny Nash's JAD Records in the late 1960s and living with Bob's mother in Wilmington, Delaware, for a time.

In the early 1970s, Rita returned to her mother-in-law's home to live and work, hoping to improve her family's financial situation. Rita had son Ziggy with her at the time, with her daughters staying with her aunt, but she decided to go home to Jamaica after giving birth to son Stephen Marley in 1972.

Returning to Jamaica, Rita discovered that Bob had been involved with two different women while she was away, and that both of these women were pregnant; their children, Robert and Rohan Marley, were born not long after Stephen. In her 2004 autobiography, No Woman No Cry: My Life with Bob Marley, Rita Marley wrote: "I was very upset at first to learn about all this, though it's common in Jamaica. But since then, I've come to love both of these boys and to think of them as my sons." She would maintain this generous attitude toward the many other children Bob would father with other women over the years.

After the Wailers signed with Island Records in 1972, things began to turn around for the band members, but not necessarily for the Marleys. The group had their first album with the label, Catch a Fire, released internationally the next year, and they began to attract critical attention. With their popularity on the rise, the Wailers toured the United States and Europe.

Not all was well, however. Rita's marriage was under a lot of stress: In addition to Bob often being away and seeing other women, Rita herself had embarked upon an extramarital affair. While she had been involved with both men before giving birth to her fourth child, daughter Stephanie, in 1974, she stated in her autobiography that Bob was the father. Around that same time, Rita—then a member of the female trio the I Threes—began performing with the Wailers after Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer left to pursue solo careers.

Death of Bob Marley

In 1976, the Marleys faced another hardship. A group of armed men attacked their home while the group was rehearsing there. Shielding her children, a bullet grazed Rita's head, and Bob was hit in the sternum and arm. Music manager Don Taylor, who had been hit several times, required surgery to fix his wounds. While no motivation for the attack was officially determined, many have speculated that it may have been politically motivated. Bob Marley was viewed as a supporter of the People's National Party, and the attack happened in the weeks leading up to an important national election.

The couple continued to face many ups and downs in the remaining years of Bob Marley’s life, but they bonded together as he battled against cancer—a disease that he would succumb to in 1981. Rita and many of Bob's children were with him when he died, on May 11, 1981, at a Miami, Florida, hospital. Following his death, Rita become engaged in a lengthy legal battle over Bob's estate since he had never written a will.

Later Years

In honor of her late husband, Rita and other members of the Marley family established the Bob Marley Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to helping people and organizations in the developing world. Rita also works to preserve Bob's music and memory through numerous events, including the annual Bob Marley Birthday Celebration in Jamaica.

Rita Marley has also continued to pursue her solo career, releasing albums such as Sunshine After Rain (2003) and Play Play (2004), and performing live. In recent years, she joined Marcia Griffiths and Judy Mowatt of the I Threes to perform at the Africa Unite concert in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

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