Saturday, September 16, 2006

Bob Marley in the Florida Death Index and a Look at His Roots

"When the root is strong, the fruit is sweet." -Katherine "YaYa" Malcolm (?-1956), Bob Marley's great grandmother

Acclaimed reggae musician Bob Marley can be found listed in Ancestry's online Florida death index - see: Online Florida Death Records Indexes and Obituaries. I've always found it a bit intriguing that a reggae legend, who lived most of his life in Jamaica and England, would be listed in an American genealogy database. Shortly before his death Bob Marley received treatment for cancer in Munich, but he wanted to live his final days in Jamaica. His flight home stopped in Miami where he received medical treatment. He died 40 hours after leaving Germany in Miami's Cedars of Lebanon Hospital. Here's the Florida death index listing...

Name: Robert Nosta Marley
Death Date: 11 May 1981
County of Death: Dade
Age at Death: 36
Race: Black
Birth Date: 6 Feb 1945

The middle name given in the death index contains a typo. The name should actually be Nesta - that's what Bob Marley was called as a child. The name Nesta, perhaps prophetically, means "messenger." Robert Nesta Marley was born in Nine Miles, St. Ann Parish, Jamaica on 6 February 1945, while the world was at war. His mother, Cedella Malcolm (now Booker), is descended from Jamaican slaves. She currently lives in Florida and turned 80 this year. Bob's Anglo-Jamaican father, "Captain" Norval Sinclair Marley (1881-1955), had little contact with his son. Norval and Cedella were married in 1944 when he was 63 and she was 18. Bob was their only child.

In the Time Will Tell video biography Bob was asked if he had prejudice against white people. His response: "I don't have prejudice against myself. My father was a white and my mother was black. Them call me half-caste or whatever. 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 one who create me and cause me to come from black and white."

Roots, Rock, Reggae
Bob's paternal grandparents were Robert Marley (1851-1885) and Ellen Bloomfield (1854-1952). His maternal grandparents were Omeriah Malcolm (c. 1880s-1964) and Alberta Willoughby (?-1935). Omeriah was a farmer, a "bush doctor," and one of the most respected residents of Nine Miles. According to Timothy White's book, Catch a Fire, Omeriah's father, Robert "Uncle Day" Malcolm, "was descended from the Cromanty slaves shipped to Jamaica from the Gold Coast (of Africa) in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries." Slavery was abolished in Jamaica in 1838.

Bob's mother moved from Jamaica to Wilmington, Delaware in 1962. Bob lived with her for part of 1966 and visited a few other times, doing odd jobs including one as a lab assistant for DuPont. He worked hard so he could save enough money to start his own record company. Before going to Delaware Bob had recorded solo and with his fellow Wailers, Bunny Livingston and Peter Tosh. He had also married Cuban born singer Alpharita "Rita" Anderson (b. 1946). When he returned to Jamaica he continued to pursue his musical career. Following a prolific series of Jamaican recordings and hits, the Wailers signed with Island records in 1972 and gained an international audience. Bob's landmark 1977 album Exodus was voted "album of the century" by Time Magazine in 1999.

"Won't you help to sing, these songs of freedom..."
In September, 1980 I visited New York City for the first time. I stayed at the Essex House Hotel at the southern end of Central Park. Bob Marley and the Wailers were staying at the same hotel. They were in town for a series of concerts with the Commodores at Madison Square Garden. I saw Bob and his entourage in the lobby one afternoon. Of course they looked a little different than the other hotel guests. Of course they all stood out. But Bob had a presence the others lacked. He was wearing a Rasta tam (knitted cap) over his dreadlocks. He was ill at this time, but I didn't know that then. His vibration, maybe dimmed by illness, still filled that lobby. Just standing in his presence you could feel it. He died less than eight months later. But his vibrations can still be felt in the music and spiritual philosophy he left behind.

Book: Catch a Fire - The Life of Bob Marley by Timothy White

Book: Before the Legend: The Rise of Bob Marley by Christopher John Farley

A family tree for Bob's father, Norval Marley, can be found online at: Norval Sinclair Marley Family Tree Chart


Anonymous said...

That was fascinating. Thanks.

Infamous Bread said...

Fascinating write-up. Thanks so much for researching & sharing.
I never knew much about Marley other than a couple songs and the dreadlocks.

(Came upon this entry by way of Googling for Florida Death Index while doing research on the 19th century African-Americans in my town. Thanks for the inspiration!)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing and giving a base for further research.

Anonymous said...

It is Robert Nesta Marley, not nosta. Bless

Janice said...

Thanks for writing this interesting post...I never knew anything about his family connections.

Ras Dauda said...

He descended are from (Gold Coast) Ghana