Like millions around the world, I love the music of Bob Marley. The message, the mood, the instruments...it is as timeless, relevant, and pure as music gets.
Despite the elements of perfection that combine to create the musical legacy of this Jamaican singer--who would have celebrated his 67th birthday today--February 6, I have always been in awe of his backup singers: the I-Threes.
Bob's late wife Rita Marley, along with Judy Mowatt, and Marcia Griffiths, make up the background vocalists the I-Threes that supported Bob Marley and the Wailers (Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer) from 1974 until Bob's death in May of 1981.
I've always loved their style. I've always admired how cool they were. Funky. Full of life. Although Bob's music could stand alone with one vocal and an acoustic guitar accompaniment, the full vocals and harmonies of the I-Threes always added a necessary touch of soul to the compositions.
Rita Marley (born 1946), who was married to Bob in 1966, and had 3 children with him (6 in total), continues to carry on his legacy through converting his home until the Bob Marley Museum, and serving as founder and chair fo the Robert Marley Foundation, Bob Marley Trust, and Bob Marley Group of Companies. She's also founded her own organization, the Rita Marley Foundation in 2000 to carry forth work in eliminating povery in developming countries, and supporting young musicians to attend college in Ghana. Rita has adopted over 30 children in Ethiopia.
Not without controversy, but Rita has continued to be the visual ambassador of the Marley legacy. Philanthropic and business contributions aside, she has also released 13 albums over the span of her singing career and penned an autobiography entitled "No Woman, No Cry: My Life with Bob Marley" (2004).
Judy Mowatt (born 1952), also an accomplished vocalist, began her career writing for Bunny Wailer in the early 70s before joining the I-Threes. She is the first female reggae artist to record an LP and self-produce it ("Black Woman" 1980) and was also the first female nominated for a Grammy award in the reggae category, in 1985. Judy, now a Christian, is a dedicated gospel singer.
Marcia Griffiths (born 1949), the Empress of Reggae, has recorded 16 studio albums to date, and continues to tour the world with artists like Beres Hammond and Freddie McGregor. Her 40-year career began when Marcia was a vocalist for Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, and exploded in 1982 when her chart-topping hit "Electric Boogie" started the now popular Electric Slide dance.
Individually, these ladies have recorded and shared decades of reggae music, and defined a legacy of female Jamaican artists with class, grace, and consistently powerful vocals.
Collectively, they represented a moment in time where the travelled and shared the essence of reggae music around the world, led by Bob and the Wailers, and set a standard for female vocalists that would be difficult to challenge. They are reggae music royalty. Queens of the genre.
And while we celebrate and remember the great Bob Marley today, I particularly would like to honour the women that stood behind him and his band. Their contributions to his music, although often overlooked, were essential, and impeccable.
Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for the Urban Toronto Tales blog, for Kya Publishing.