Rita Marley is best known as the widow of reggae king Bob and one of his backing singers, the I-Three, but that is just a fraction of her narrative.
Alpharita Constantia "Rita" Marley, OD (née Anderson; born 25 July 1946), was born in Santiago de Cuba, to Leroy Anderson and Cynthia "Beda" Jarrett. She grew up in Kingston. In her book No Woman, No Cry: My Life with Bob Marley, she describes how she was raised by her Aunt Viola on Greenwich Park Road.
In the mid-1960s, Rita met Bob Marley through Peter Tosh. After it was learned that she was a singer, she was asked to audition for the Soulettes. Bob, then a member of the Wailers vocal trio along with Bunny Livingston and Tosh, became the group's mentor and manager and through working together, he and Rita fell in love.
Soulettes recorded rocksteady tunes but none were hits.
After those recordings for the Studio One label coached by Bob, Rita married him in 1966, just before her husband moved to Wilmington, Delaware for a few months to make a living working at the Dupont Hotel there. Bob was replaced by Constantine "Vision" Walker, who recorded a few songs as a member of The Wailers.
Upon Bob's return at the end of the summer of 1966, Bunny Livingston, Tosh and Bob created their independent label Wail 'n' Soul'm, which released several records.
As Bunny was jailed in 1968 for marijuana possession, Rita joined the Wailers, replacing Bunny for a few months. At that time that The Wailers met American singer Johnny Nash, who produced a series of Wailers rocksteady recordings. In April 1968 Nash's manager (and mobster) Danny Sims signed Tosh, Bob and Rita Marley to exclusive publishing, management and production contracts in exchange for a few dollars and an opportunity to record in Kingston for the New York-based JAD label owned by Nash, musician Arthur Jenkins and Sims.
Musicians on this 1968 Wailers session feature Tosh and the Marleys. Rita sang vocals on a dozen fine rocksteady and soul tracks, most of which were not issued at the time. New recordings of ‘Bend Down Low’ and ‘Mellow Mood’ were issued as a single in the U.S.
Following the birth of Bob and Rita's first child, David, in 1968, Bob returned to Delaware in 1969 to work on the night shift in a Chrysler factory. Bunny had returned to the Wailers at the end of 1968 and Rita did not record with Bob until 1974, when her husband formed the I-Three harmony vocal group featuring Marcia Griffiths and Judy Mowatt to replace Peter and Bunny, who had left the band in 1973.
Together with the I-Three, Bob Marley & the Wailers recorded the fine Natty Dread album in 1974 and many more, first rising to international superstardom in 1975 with ‘No Woman No Cry’. It was followed up by the 1976 smash hit album Rastaman Vibration. On Dec. 3, 1976 two days before Smile Jamaica, a large free concert organised by Bob Marley with the support of Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley, Rita, Bob, and manager Don Taylor were wounded in an assault by gunmen affiliated to Manley's opponents inside the Marley home. Rita survived a shot to the head and Taylor sustained serious injuries from being shot in the leg. Bob had a bullet skid his chest and wound his arm. Bob nevertheless played this major show in Kingston, then went into exile.
Bob, the Wailers, and the I-Three, including Rita, moved to London in late 1976. By then Bob was living with Cindy Breakspeare, a Jamaican model who had just been crowned Miss World 1976. They would soon have a son, Damian. Despite this, Rita stayed to sing with her husband.
After Marley's death in 1981, she recorded a few albums under her name with some success in the UK. A 1982 cover version of the Love Joys' song ‘One Draw’ was a successful single in Europe.
In 1986, Rita decided to convert Bob's home into the Bob Marley Museum in Hope Road, Kingston. She is the founder and chair of the Robert Marley Foundation, Bob Marley Trust, and the Bob Marley Group of Companies. She adopted 35 children in Ethiopia and has assisted over 200 children in Konkonuru Methodist School in Ghana.
In 2000 she created the Rita Marley Foundation, a non-governmental, not-for-profit, non-partisan organisation that alleviates poverty and hunger in developing countries. It specifically targets elderly and youth. It has given out scholarships to music students in Ghana. It hosts the annual Africa Unite concerts which looks to spread global awareness about issues that affect Africa and to develop lasting solutions.
In 1996, Rita Marley was awarded the Order of Distinction by the Jamaican government, and in 2010 received the Marcus Garvey Lifetime Award. In 2013, she was made an honorary citizen of Ghana by the Ghanaian government. In November 2015 Marley was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by the University of the West Indies.
In 2004, While promoting her memoir, Rita accused Bob Marley of raping her in 1973. She told the Daily Mirror that she once refused to have sex with her husband because of his infidelity, but to no avail. "Bob wouldn't take no for an answer. He said to me, 'No, you're my wife and you're supposed to.' So he forced himself on me, and I call that rape."
In 2005 Rita planned to have the body of her late husband exhumed and buried in Ethiopia, his "spiritual resting place" but it did not happen, mainly because there was an outcry in Jamaica at the thought of it.
Rita, 71, has six children, two from other relationships and four with Bob.