by Howard Campbell
[MIAMI] – Each time Bob Marley gets marquee recognition, his widow Rita is there to represent. Whether it’s induction in the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame, receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Grammys or a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Forty years after his death, Marley is a multi-million dollar brand. Driven mainly by a vast catalog of timeless songs and merchandise bearing his image and message of world peace.
Rita, who turns 75 on July 25, is largely responsible for her husband’s legacy. Attaining levels akin to The Beatles, Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan.
“Rita has done everything she could to keep positive memories of the Reggae King alive. Including bringing Ziggy and family to Namibia to celebrate its independence. In addition to creating new moments of African connection for the children. The fact that Bob remains one of, if not the best selling reggae artist in the world today, is largely due to her stewardship,” said Marley historian Roger Steffens.
Because of debilitating strokes, Rita Marley rarely makes public appearances. When she does, it is on behalf of the Rita Marley Foundation, her charity. Or to receive honors such as the Order of Jamaica, which she was awarded by the Jamaican government in 2019.
For almost 10 years, Rita Marley toured the world with her husband as a member of The I Three, Marley’s harmony group which also included Marcia Griffiths and Judy Mowatt. She was shot in the assassination attempt on his life at their home in Kingston in December, 1976.
Following his death at age 36 in May, 1981 Rita resumed the solo career she put on hold when they got married in February, 1966. She had a string of hit songs including the marijuana anthem, One Draw, Harambe and The Beauty of God’s Plan.
In addition, Rita Marley has helped guide the careers of four of her six children. Ziggy, Stephen, Sharon and Cedella are multiple Grammy winners as members of Ziggy Marley and The Melody Makers.
Her grandsons, Skip Marley, Jo Mersa and Hymn Marley, are also artists.
Steffens sees similarities between Rita and another famous pop star widow.
“Poor Yoko (Ono), who will always be unfairly tagged as the woman who broke apart The Beatles, has lived in John’s (Lennon) shadow ever since he was murdered five months before Bob passed from cancer. Rita is kind of her reggae equivalent, performing her own material, pushing her late husband’s unheard works, and rigidly controlling the documentaries that have come out under her aegis, sometimes rewriting history in the process,” he said.