Faces of Black Excellence

Here is what you didn’t know about Bob Marley’s parents, Cedella Booker and Norval Marley

Any follower of Bob Marley’s music will know how the reggae icon eulogized his early life with his parents, Cedella Booker and Norval Marley. His parents got to know each other in St. Ann Parish, Jamaica and got engaged in 1945, the same time Bob Marley was born. He was born on February 6, 1945, and named Robert Nesta Marley.

Though the couple loved each other, they had to go their separate ways following the stark difference in race. Bob Marley’s father was a white middle-aged plantation manager and his mother was a black woman working the ropes to survive in Jamaica, according to Rasta Man vibration.

In his 1975 interview with Rock’s Backpages referenced by the Guardian, Bob Marley spoke of how his biracial background brought him humiliation by his peers. That is why he focused his music largely on peace and love, a theme that featured strongly in the 2024 biopic Bob Marley: One Love.

“Because my father’s White, my mother’s Black. You know what them call me, half caste or wh’ever,” he said. “Well, me don’t dip on nobody’s side, me don’t dip on the Black man’s side nor the White man’s side, me dip on God’s side, the man who create me, who cause me to come from Black and White, who give me this talent.”

In a 1995 interview with Toyin Adekale, Booker expressed her belief that Bob Marley took after her, particularly in terms of his actions reflecting Christian values. She asserted that her influence played a significant role in shaping his character.

Booker and Norval Marley, a British naval officer, met in Nine Miles, Jamaica, in the early 1940s. Booker was 18 years old at the time of Bob Marley’s birth, marking the beginning of the journey for the future reggae icon.

Soon after his birth, Booker and Norval Marley separated. Although Bob Marley was their only child together, Booker later had three more children. She had a daughter with Taddeus Livingston and two sons with her second husband, civil servant Edward Booker, as reported by The Independent.

According to Bob Marley’s website, Norval Marley’s family strongly opposed his relationship with Booker. Despite their separation, Norval Marley continued to provide financial support for the family but had minimal contact with his son, Bob Marley, with visits ceasing altogether when Bob Marley was 5 years old. Norval Marley passed away from a heart attack five years later.

Booker and Bob Marley later relocated to Kingston, Jamaica, and established themselves in the impoverished neighborhood known as Trench Town, as reported by The Independent. The hardships of poverty and political turmoil experienced by Bob Marley and his mother in this community became influential themes in some of his most iconic songs, such as “No Woman, No Cry” and “Trench Town Rock,” as noted on Bob Marley’s official website.

Bob Marley left school at the age of 14, and although his mother, Booker, initially encouraged him to pursue a trade instead of music, he ultimately found his passion for music. According to Bob Marley’s website, he worked as a welder’s apprentice until an incident involving a steel splinter in his eye prompted him to quit and fully focus on music.

Despite initially preferring a different path for her son, Booker became emotional when witnessing his performances. In a 1993 interview with Roger Steffens, she fondly recalled the first time she saw Bob Marley perform at a concert in April 1976.

“That was my first sight of seeing Bob perform. As a matter of fact, it start from the house because he sent a limousine to pick us up,” she said. “About 10 of us packed in that car, and then we went there. And even on the way … going to listen to my son perform, and everybody’s so excited about it to hear talking all over and things. I tell you, I was excited myself. Oh man, that night it bring joys, it bring tears, everything.”

While Bob Marley’s music enjoys global recognition, his mother, Booker, also ventured into the music industry with two albums of her own. In 1984, she released a gospel album titled “Awake Zion!” followed by a children’s album titled “Smilin’ Island of Song” in 1992.

In a 1995 interview with Adekale, Booker disclosed her family’s musical background, mentioning that her mother and sisters were also singers. However, it was Bob Marley who encouraged her to pursue her own music career.

“I wasn’t even thinking of singing to the public myself,” she said. “But as Bob asked me, he said, ‘Mom, I want you to do a gospel album.’ We started it before he left.”

Booker died in her sleep from natural causes at age 81 on April 8, 2008, at her home in Miami.

Stephen Nartey

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