This article was originally published March 28th, 2014. It’s being republished in honor of what would have been Bob Marley’s 75th birthday, February 6th, 2020.
Bob Marley’s legend just keeps growing, but his sons and daughters are the ones who live with it most closely. It’s a big family – Marley had 11 acknowledged children, by seven different mothers – and also a diverse one, ranging from musicians and athletes to authors, business impresarios and fashion designers, all of whom had unique perspectives on, and relationships with, their famous father. Here, five of the late legend’s children – Ziggy, Cedella, Stephen, Karen, and Rohan – reveal their thoughts about the joys and challenges of growing up with a music hero, and the lessons they carry with them to this day.
David “Ziggy” Marley, 45
Led the Grammy-winning Melody Makers and is now a solo artist
When you started your own music career, what sort of pressure did you feel?
My father was the one who got us into music. He’s the one who wrote the first song that [the Melody Makers] ever sang [1979’s “Children Playing in the Streets”]. He was the one in the studio recording it, putting down guitars on the track, and the first concert we did as a group was a concert my father was on. So for a couple of years my father and I were musicians alike. It’s a little bit different for me because we started music before my father passed away, before the “great rise of the legend Bob Marley” in the eyes of the whole world. He was still a legend, but it wasn’t that big of a thing. When he passed, it became this big thing.
Is it easy for you now to separate the ideas of him as a father and as an icon?
I mean, of all the things, what stands out was his personality. He was a people person, you know? Friendly, having fun, having the kids around. He had a serious side, a revolutionary side, and the fun side – he liked to have fun. Play soccer or board games: draughts, and a Jamaican game called ludi, a dice game.
After he passed, did you feel people were looking to you to pick up where he left off?
I was pretty young and naive. Growing up in Jamaica, we’re not growing up around all of these ideas all over the world. We do our music, you just do it and it’s there. When you come to America, with all the music experts who judge and criticize, that’s where you get that idea that “oh, the pressure of being Bob Marley’s children” or whatever – that’s where that comes from; that doesn’t come from where we come from. So I wasn’t really exposed to it that much. After the fact, I kind of understand what people were trying to say. There must have been some psychological or subliminal thing going on, but it wasn’t on the front of my mind.
So it was different in Jamaica because Bob was seen as just another regular person over there?
Yeah, Bob was a local. Bob grew up on the streets. He was one of the guys, one of the brothers. He didn’t carry himself as anybody higher or better. He was one of the soldiers, you know?
Did that then make it strange to see how people in other parts of the world put your father on a pedestal?
No. Bob means to them according to the impact he had on their lives. For some of us, he will be a friend, a father, a brother. For others, he would be a legend, a king, a prophet. He was all of those things, but not all of those things all the time. Sometimes he was just a regular person just having fun. In certain moments, he’s a prophet; certain times he’s a god.
Did you feel like he was around enough when you were a child?
For me, he was around enough. There was no “oh, that’s not enough.” It was more than enough.
Because that was the only thing you knew at the time?
Yeah, we were fine, especially for the boys. We hung out with him a lot. But the daughters, because of our culture and my father’s lifestyle, the girls didn’t get to hang out with him as much as we did.
Growing up, did you listen to your father’s music? Or did you come to it as a fan later in life?
We grew up listening to music; we didn’t just listen to his music. We listened to other music happening in Jamaica at the time: Michael Jackson, James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye.
Can you remember any specific ideas he taught that you still carry with you today?
One specific thing: Sing from your belly. Use your diaphragm. Yeah, I took that. It took me years to get to where I am now, where I feel like I’m actually singing from my belly. It took some time, you know?
What other things did he teach you about music?
What I learned from observing: rehearsal, discipline, a work ethic and a standard of music. That is why my father was known; his standard was set so that he could compete with music worldwide, because of the standard it’s at. It doesn’t sound like, “Oh, I’m listening to this strange music from somewhere else.” It has these strange rhythms, but the standard of it is as high as any other musical composition in the entire world. That standard – musicianship, we call it. The harmonies were right.
What is a common misconception about your father?
I don’t know if it’s a misconception – my father smoked, but he wasn’t a pothead. It correlated to the faith, with Rasta, correlated to spirituality and the Rastafarian faith. That is something he would better have people understand: the use of the plant and how it correlated with a spiritual aspect of his life, and not just “oh, let’s smoke pot and get high.” Herbs are a special thing. Not frivolous.
Cedella Marley, 46
A singer, actress, author and the CEO of Tuff Gong International
As his eldest child, do you feel and uphold a special responsibility to manage your father’s continuing legacy?
In a family, the first-born is expected to bear a lot of responsibility. I bear it with honor and respect. It’s a hard job on the outside, because you have all of these things coming, and you just have to prioritize what’s important to fight about today. The victory is always sweet. My father actually told me he wanted me to run his business. And I looked at him – I’m, like, 10 – and I’m like, “What business? I see you in studio, in the rehearsal.” [The Marleys’ Kingston home] Hope Road was a compound, because the record store was there. I was behind the counter selling records, counting money. When I was selling the records, I didn’t know he meant this. [What he told me] was a friendly reminder.
Is the business side of him something that gets overlooked?
Most people overlook that side of Daddy. He started his own record label. He was one of the handful of Jamaicans at the time who actually owned their own pressing plants. He wasn’t just pressing his own records, but other Jamaican artists [too]. He was the first one to design and wear a Bob Marley T-shirt. He was very savvy. He believed in owning everything that could make him succeed in whatever it was he was doing, whether it was the producers or the person who was pressing and distributing for other artists.
How were you treated growing up in Jamaica as the daughter of Bob Marley?
[When I was growing up], Daddy wasn’t that popular – the pressure was more being a daughter of Rastafarians. There was and still is that prejudice. You would have these girls – I would think we could hang out together; when it’s time for sleepover, they would have to lie to their parents because they were not allowed to come to our house. People had this idea that our house was filled with marijuana smoke and music, when I think our house was the strictest house on any block!
How was his relationship with his daughters different than his relationship with his sons?
I’ve heard stories from some of Daddy’s friends that when they came on to me, Daddy was very protective. He was protective of his sons, but he made them come around more in his environment. If you went into the yard, the yard was full of men; some good, some bad, some indifferent. Which father is going to let his daughter hang around in that environment? As the sun starts to go down [Marley would say], “OK, go home. Rita, take her home.”
What memory stands out for you about the end of his life?
I believe in prayer, and I truly believed that our prayers were going to work [to cure Marley’s cancer], that we were going to see miracles. When it didn’t happen, I was kind of lost, saying, “Wait, this is supposed to work. Every time you pray, you’re supposed to get a miracle.”
What did it take to stop feeling lost?
It was time. Even talking about it today, it feels like it just happened. I know I’m grown – I’m looking at pictures of my kids. But I don’t know – you go, “What if?” But we can’t do “What if?” because we’re living in “What’s next?”
Stephen Marley, 41
A producer, singer-songwriter and musician who has won eight Grammy Awards
Why is it important for you that your father’s studio be maintained?
Being in there is like being in an altar. It’s a holy place. All musicians that come through feel that, the energy of the place. Lauryn Hill did a lot of her album [The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill] there. She’s one of them who knows the energy of that place.
Do you have a favorite image of your father in the studio?
I remember one night, there was this technician there, and he would go in and fix things. Me and Ziggy asked him to turn on the microphones, and we went into the vocal booth and started singing every song of our father’s. And when we came out, our father was sitting there listening to us, and we didn’t even know the whole time he was there! He didn’t say anything, but he didn’t leave before we were done.
As a musician, what is something you think gets overlooked about his music?
The way he plays his rhythm guitar is like speaking. Like he says it, like, “Chikk-a, chikk-a” – that’s how it’s supposed to sound. But other than that, though, he was into jazz, and I was around him when he was practicing different chords that are not so typical of reggae. He would have, like, chord books, you know? If you take a song like “Jamming,” if you could hear the takes of the song before it was being recorded, it was kind of like jazz, with reggae.
The family is so big, and everyone is involved. Does your father’s legacy ever feel like a burden for you all?
I wouldn’t say it’s “hard” to get everyone on the same page, but it takes work. Our father is such a focal point in all of our lives, all of his children’s lives. We have this one common thing that is the greatest part of us, know what I mean? I guess like every other family, sometimes we don’t agree, but we believe in each other.
Karen Marley, 41
A fashion designer who has rarely spoken publicly about her father
Why do you find it uncomfortable to talk about Bob Marley?
I guess I’m a little shy? Sometimes when I speak about my dad it is a little touchy for me. I wanted to just live without someone going, “Oh, there’s Karen Marley.” I have to put my name out there because I opened a business. I’m kind of dealing with that, getting comfortable doing interviews. I’m doing a little bit better with this than when I was younger. That wasn’t part of my thing. I’m not a musician. I like to be a little bit under the radar.
Is it weird to know that people have ideas about you or your family before you even meet them?
Yeah, I’m not my dad. I’m Karen. People come to me expressing their like or dislike with what the family is doing. We’re not Bob. We’re his kids. We try to carry on his legacy, stay true to it as much as possible, that’s number one. But at the end of the day we’re all individuals, doing our own thing.
What do you think it is that people want from you?
Dreads. Maybe not to go to certain parties or not to eat certain things. It’s part of what we as a family have to go through because people have certain expectations on their mind of what we should be doing. But we’re a family unit, we’re strong, and this is what we do.
There are a lot of half-siblings and stepsiblings all working together. Has it always felt like a unified family?
I think we’re pretty tight-knit. I grew up with Rita, my stepmom; I call her Mom. My real mom is in London. I wasn’t a part of her life. I moved to Jamaica and lived with my great-grandparents for a few years. Then I lived with Rita until I was an adult. We keep it tight. My sister Cedella always tries to get everybody to Miami down at her house having dinner and just hanging out. And Ziggy’s here [in Los Angeles], and Cedella comes over and we’re all at Ziggy’s house. We do the family thing. We’re big about that.
How often are you introduced to someone who doesn’t know who your father is?
Rarely. I don’t assume, but you know what? I’ve only met one person who had no idea who my dad was, but it was an older white lady. Pretty much everyone knows. I think people are surprised when certain people know. Or you walk into a store and you see a Bob Marley picture – like, what do you know about that?
Does your father come up in every single conversation you have with a stranger?
It depends on the conversation. I was on the plane the other day, and the guy sitting next to me, we just started talking about stuff. He proceeded to tell me that he was the air marshal. So I was like, “Oh, I’m Bob Marley’s daughter!” It depends on how I feel. I don’t volunteer it.
Rohan Marley, 41,
Played football for the University of Miami and founded Marley Coffee
What’s the first thing you think of when you think of your father?
I remember the scent in the house. You can smell fruits. You can always get a good fish tea in a calabash. Fish tea is like a soup, they grind up the fish and get the water. Yeah, man, it was wonderful. It was the best taste. Now I always try to get that taste – only a few of my Rastafarian brethren, if they cook for me, I can taste it. Those are good memories.
Do you remember when you realized that people thought Bob Marley was a special man?
Yeah, I don’t remember how old I was. You understand how the streets are: He was the man. Some of the baddest men in Jamaica, when my father talked, they cowered down. There were Rude Boys – when my father talked, they showed respect. Also you notice how he treated people that would see him for help: food, clothing, shelter, doctor bills, school fees, books. I don’t know anyone like my father. Only person like my father are my brothers and my sisters.
What was it like being Bob Marley’s son at a big American university?
The other guys didn’t really know how I was raised. They said, “Oh, you got a scholarship because you’re Bob Marley’s son.” I had to prove myself.
Were you always getting asked to smoke weed?
No, no. But they always thought I did.
What is your father’s greatest lesson?
When you’re kids sitting in a room, and learn from guys like Chris Blackwell, and we talk about the Marley business, you say, “Oh, that’s the way it goes.” You see how to do things for a generation. You don’t want to do things just for you. No, man, you can’t. My father did not do that. If it’s positive, we can do it. When you have more, you can do more. That’s sustainability. You constantly do that. That’s my father: There’s no limitations. When I stop, it should be greater than I. The ones that come after I should be greater than I. It does not end.