Rita Marley was born Alfarita Anderson in the city of Santiago de Cuba. When she was a small child, her family moved to Trench Town, Kingston in the island nation of Jamaica. Even at a young age, she had a fascination with music. “My first memory would be of my father,” she recalled. “He was a musician. He would play the saxophone and my aunt would sing. The combination of the instrument and the voice resonated with me deeply. I remember my aunt guiding me to sing in harmony with her, and I was on my way!”
Music was more than just a lighthearted expression of voice and instrument. She always saw in it a higher power. “Church was part of life as early as I can remember. In church, as a little girl, I would sing in the choir, so music was always a spiritual experience for me. Singing songs of praise and joy brought healing and togetherness. ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ is still one of my favorite songs to sing.”
As a teenager, she sang in a vocal group called the Soulettes. It was during this period that she met a young man who also recognized the spiritual power of music. His name was Bob Marley. In Marley, Rita found a kindred spirit, a voice for the common man. She began singing with Bob’s band, the Wailers, and helped form the backing trio that would largely influence his sound, the I-Three.
“One of the things we all had in common from the very beginning was an awareness of the power of music and its ability to convey a message to the mind and the spirit. It was what sealed the chemistry of Bob with the Wailers and also the I-Three. Bob had a vision and was able to articulate it in a way that we could all receive and then work to express.”
Eventually, Bob Marley and the Wailers, backed by the I-Three, would gain worldwide acclaim for his music and its powerful message of freedom and unity.
“To share these words, these ideas. At the time, the political climate all over the world was one in which the people were seeking freedom, empowerment and healing on a whole. Bob was a spiritual man. This he acquired from his mother, Cedella Booker. The music expressed and supported that, so it was always important for the music to be heard. After the assassination attempt in Kingston, we became even more determined. It was a mission that obviously was gaining a momentum that threatened the status quo and, as Bob said, ‘no bullet can stop us now.’
“In the midst of it all, we really kept our focus on the work itself, and we felt a connection with the people at every concert. There would always come a point where the energy from Bob would connect with the energy of the people and we would become one in a sense. That energy was there in a club as much as it was in a stadium.”
After her husband’s death in 1981, Rita Marley devoted her life to helping others. From her work with children in Ghana to her foundation’s ongoing mission to fight poverty and hunger, she has strived to make the world a better place. Why?
“Because I lived it—the abundance as well as the struggle—and always I knew I was a part of something bigger than just myself. Growing up in Trench Town wasn’t easy, but even in times of struggle, we didn’t lose hope; partly because of the sense that we were part of a greater community that cared for one another. We each shared whatever little we had, and that allowed it to grow and serve more than just the individual need. It fed us all.”
Throughout her long and amazing life, Rita Marley has been witness to the transformative power of music. And though the world is still rife with pain and hatred, she still sees music as the key to our overcoming these struggles.
“Music is so transforming. It has the power to evoke ranges of emotions. Through music, each artist can manifest healing, love, happiness. We must continue with spreading peace, unity, love through conscious music. Sing songs similar to Bob Marley and the Wailers, Toots and the Maytals, Jimmy Cliff and the list goes on. Be mindful that your word is sound and power.”
Learn more about the Rita Marley Foundation at ritamarleyfoundation.org.