No Woman No Cry: My Life with Bob Marley

No Woman No Cry: My Life with Bob Marley

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by Rita Marley

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A memoir by the woman who knew Bob Marley best--his wife, Rita.

Rita Marley grew up in the slums of Trench Town, Jamaica. Abandoned by her mother at a very young age, she was raised by her aunt. Music ran in Rita's family, and even as a child her talent for singing was pronounced. By the age of 18, Rita was an unwed mother, and it was then that…  See more details below


A memoir by the woman who knew Bob Marley best--his wife, Rita.

Rita Marley grew up in the slums of Trench Town, Jamaica. Abandoned by her mother at a very young age, she was raised by her aunt. Music ran in Rita's family, and even as a child her talent for singing was pronounced. By the age of 18, Rita was an unwed mother, and it was then that she met Bob Marley at a recording studio in Trench Town. Bob and Rita became close friends, fell in love, and soon, she and her girlfriends were singing backup for the Wailers. At the ages of 21 and 19, Bob and Rita were married.

The rest is history: Bob Marley and the Wailers set Jamaica and the world on fire. But while Rita displayed blazing courage, joy, and an indisputable devotion to her husband, life with Bob was not easy. There were his liaisons with other women--some of which produced children and were conducted under Rita's roof. The press repeatedly reported that Bob was unmarried to preserve his "image." But Rita kept her self-respect, and when Bob succumbed to cancer in 1981, she was at his side. In the years that followed, she became a force in her own right--as the Bob Marley Foundation's spokesperson and a performer in her reggae group, the I-Three.

Written with author Hettie Jones, No Woman No Cry is a no-holds-barred account of life with one of the most famous musicians of all time. In No Woman No Cry, readers will learn about the never-before-told details of Bob Marley's life, including:

  • How Rita practiced subsistence farming when first married to Bob to have food for her family.
  • How Rita rode her bicycle into town with copies of Bob's latest songs to sell.
  • How Rita worked as a housekeeper in Delaware to help support her family when her children were young.
  • Why Rita chose to befriend some of the women with whom Bob had affairs and to give them advice on rearing the children they had with Bob.
  • The story of the attack on Bob which almost killed the two of them.
  • Bob's last wishes, dreams, and hopes, as well as the details of his death, such as who came to the funeral (and who didn't).

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Editorial Reviews

Rita is a strong woman whose angle on Bob Marley is fresh and authoritative.
Publishers Weekly
Fans of reggae legend Bob Marley will welcome this no-nonsense biography from his wife, Rita, who was also his band member, business partner, musical collaborator and the only person to have witnessed firsthand his development from local Jamaican singer to international superstar. Aided by poet and memoirist Jones (How I Became Hettie Jones), Rita presents the powerful details of her early life story: her youth in the Trench Town ghetto of Kingston, Jamaica, living with "thugs, thieves, killers, prostitutes, gamblers"; her encounters with the early "Wailing Wailers"; and how her relationship with Bob cemented as they spent days recording in Dodd's Studio One. Throughout, this memoir emphasizes Rita's own substantial musicianship, first as part of Bob Marley's backing vocalists, the I-Threes, and later her own career after his death "carrying on a legacy that means so much to the world." Those subjects provide a positive balance to unpleasant experiences such as dealing with Bob Marley's various mistresses during his life and defending herself from accusations after his death that she was financially abusing his estate. This is far from a definitive look at Bob Marley, and for a comprehensive, critical look at the singer it would be hard to compete with Timothy White's definitive Catch a Fire. But this book makes an important contribution to our understanding of Marley and Jamaican music in general. (Apr.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Wife of the late Bob Marley, Rita Marley offers her long-awaited reminiscences of life with the reggae superstar. With the help of poet Hettie Jones, she writes candidly about various topics, e.g., Marley's notorious womanizing (she actually befriended many of her husband's lovers), an assault that nearly killed Bob and Rita, and his dying hopes and wishes. Above all, fans will find a simple story of a woman who married a simple man, watched him rise to fame, and bravely endured many tribulations at his side. An orphan from Jamaica's Trench Town, Rita was a backup singer who met Marley in a recording studio. Soon after, the two married and were together until Marley's death from cancer in 1981. Unfortunately, Rita doesn't delve much into Marley's music and the mythmaking of the media. Thus, her book will probably appeal to only the most ardent Marley fans-those who want to know everything. Timothy White's Catch a Fire is still the best place to start. For large libraries and comprehensive reggae collections. [A portion of this book's proceeds will go to the Bob Marley Foundation.-Ed.]-Bill Walker, Stockton- San Joaquin Cty. P.L., CA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
It can't be said that her relationship with Bob Marley was easy, but his wife of 15 years portrays it as intensely close and spiritual. Rita Marley grew up in the rough Trench Town slums of Kingston, Jamaica. She was born to sing, and it wasn't long before she conspired to bump into the Wailing Wailers as they walked to the recording studio down the road from her house. She formed the Soulettes to serve as the Wailers' backup singers, and she formed a bond with Bob Marley close enough to lead to marriage. She joined Bob in the Rastafarian movement, which has some very specific prescriptions and proscriptions-although evidently, having numerous sexual relations outside marriage was not one of them, as Bob rarely spent the night with Rita. When she decided in 1971, after years of desperate poverty, that "the music thing was definitely not working" and she would have to go work in the US, leaving her children prompted sharp sadness. Meanwhile, Bob was busy back home getting two girlfriends pregnant. After Island Records took a chance on the "bad boys" against industry advice, they shot to fame, Bob played around even more, and the Marleys became as brother and sister. Rita's role was to serve as protector: "I'd become more like a guardian. . . . I had more responsibility than just that of a wife," she writes, admitting that the situation often pained her ("The boys born while I was in Delaware were not the last born outside our marriage, and I ended up taking care of many of them"). Marley doesn't mince her words as she describes Trench Town, the trials of being penniless followed by the trials of being wealthy, and Bob's probably preventable death. Tart, self-assured, and lasting.
From the Publisher
"Rita does his legacy a great favor by humanizing him and his astounding musical gifts."—Rolling Stone

"Her writing carries a distinct patois and a directness that makes the book a breezy kind of read."—The Hamilton Spectator

The Hamilton Spectator
"Her writing carries a distinct patois and a directness that makes the book a breezy kind of read."
Rolling Stone
"Rita does his legacy a great favor by humanizing him and his astounding musical gifts."

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Product Details

Hachette Books
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3 MB
Age Range:
18 Years

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People ask what it's like when I'm somewhere and suddenly Bob's voice comes on the radio. But the thing about Bob is so deep, it is as if he's always with me, there's always something to remind me. So I don't wait for his voice.

And he did promise me, before he finally closed his eyes, that he'd be here. It was May 11, 1981, and the doctors said he was dying of cancer and that there was no hope. But Bob was hanging on, he wouldn't let go.

I had put his head in my arm, and I was singing "God Will Take Care of You." But then I started to cry and said, "Bob, please, don't leave me."

And he looked up and said, "Leave you, go where? What are you crying for? Forget crying, Rita! Just keep singing. Sing! Sing!"

So I kept singing, and then I realized, wow, that's exactly what the song was saying: "I will never leave you, wherever you are I will be . . ."

So if I hear his voice now, it's only confirming that he's always around, everywhere. Because you do really hear his voice wherever you go. All over the world.

And one interesting thing about it, to me, is that most people only hear him. But I hear more, because I'm on almost all of the songs. So I also hear my voice, I also hear me.

Chapter Two
Who Feels It, Knows It

Studio One had probably been a home before Coxsone bought it. He had taken down walls, but it was easy to imagine where the bedroom used to be and the kitchen and the hall. So you felt like you were at home there, because it was less like a business and more like a family affair. When anything happened, everybody got excited -- the musicians, the singers, the man outside. And the hype was, "We do a hit tune today." "We" meaning it was everybody's hit tune. We would be there for days, nights, days, but nobody complained -- it was just fun to wake up and say, "Oooh, I have studio today!"

Coxsone had recorded some of the most successful groups in Jamaica, including the famous "Skatalites," one of the earliest ska bands. (The word "ska" comes from a certain sound made by the electric guitar.) Marcia Griffiths, who later sang with me as one of the I-Three, says that Studio One was Jamaica's Motown, "where all the great stars grew . . . like a university you graduate." A lot of times different people would be working at once; songs were being written in every corner. You couldn't help but learn if you kept your ears open. Coxsone had a guitar that he loaned to those who were too poor to buy one. Bob had that guitar most of the time.

The backup group we eventually formed still consisted of Dream, myself, and Marlene, who would leave school in the evenings to come to Trench Town and rehearse, and whose parents thought this was the worst ambition. To leave high school to go to Trench Town, to be with those kinds of people -- the tough guys, the killers, the thieves!

Dream was my main tootsie, my favorite cousin, my little postman, my little errand runner. As a baby, he had the most beautiful big eyes you've ever seen, and always looked as if he was dreaming -- you know that sexy dreamy look? So from an early age Constantine Anthony Walker was known as "Dream." He was only about thirteen, the baby amongst us, when we met the Wailers. They, being the Misters of Black Progress, who taught us that Black Is Beautiful and how wise it is to know yourself, decided that Dream was so much their little "buds" (buddy) that they had to change his nickname. Only old men have dreams, they insisted, but young men have visions. And so Dream became Vision. A much more youthful flavor!

We sang behind the Wailers and sometimes behind other singers or groups who were recording. Coxsone and some others on the scene suggested we name ourselves something like the Marvelettes, an American group we'd heard, and so we became the "Soulettes." Our first big hit, with Delroy Wilson also singing background, was "I Love You, Baby." This was a big, big thrill for us. We were unknown, we weren't out there in the show business arena, and we were all still teenagers, starry-eyed amateurs.

It was also Coxsone's suggestion that Bob train and rehearse us, and I guess by then he must have seen something happening between Bob and me.

He was pretty handsome, I thought -- Robert Nesta Marley, Robbie to all of us then. Jamaicans would call him brown-skinned and Americans might say light-skinned. His father, Captain Norval Sinclair Marley, was an older white man, a native Jamaican who had retired from the British Army. Bob had much of his father's imprint; he was very half-black, half-white, with a high, round forehead, prominent cheekbones, and a long nose. His mother, Cedella "Ciddy" Malcolm, was seventeen when she met Norval. He was more than twice her age, and was then the superintendent for British-owned lands in the rural parish of St. Ann, where Ciddy lived. By the time she was nineteen, she'd been seduced by, married to, and then abandoned by Norval. The one time he saw his father, Bob used to say, the old man offered him a "Willy" penny (an old copper coin, thought of as a collector's item). Bob claimed he never saw Norval again.

But like me, Bob had an extended family to raise him, at least for a while. His grandfather, Omeriah Malcolm, was a myalman, or healer, as well as a successful businessman respected in his community of Nine Miles. So it didn't surprise me that Bob, as the world would come to know, was very black conscious -- his black consciousness covered his light skin. You see him, you hear him, and he's a black man. And he was very disciplined, self-disciplined. Very real.

At fourteen he had come from St. Ann to Kingston with his mother, to live with her and a man named Thaddius (Taddy) Livingston, who had offered her work in his bar. Ciddy had a daughter, Pearl, with Taddy, but then found out he was already married and had other women besides. Looking for a better life, she took Pearl, who was still a baby, and migrated to Wilmington, Delaware, where she had some family and friends. Bob was left in Taddy's care, but more like on his own. He told me that his mother's plan had been to send for him in three months, as soon as she was settled and could secure the necessary papers. But the papers weren't easy to get. The three months had become more than three years.

When we met, Bob was living in an uneasy situation with Taddy Livingston, Taddy's common-law wife, and his son Neville Livingston, called Bunny, the member of the Wailers eventually known as Bunny Wailer. With his mother away, Bob lacked the kind of support and defense I got from Aunty. (One of his early songs is titled "Where Is My Mother.") Taddy's woman resented him, as the son of a woman who had had an affair with her man. One day Bob told me how fed up he was with both Taddy and this "stepmother," who wanted him to be her maid because he wasn't bringing any money to the house. For a while he had simply become an errand boy, then worked as a trainee in a welding shop, before making his first singles, "Judge Not" and then "One Cup of Coffee," on the Beverley's label. That Bob was getting some attention didn't mean he was being paid very much. No one had money then.

At first, and maybe always, I cared for Robbie Marley from a sisterly point of view. I was that sort of person, and still am -- the responsible kind. I saw him and I said, "poor thing." It wasn't "I love him," but "poor thing." My heart went out to him. I kept thinking, oh, what a nice boy. So nice that I didn't want to let him know I had a baby -- in those days, for a teenager to be unmarried and have a baby seemed so shameful. During this time I spent many hours at Studio One, rehearsing and recording, and always managed to conceal that fact. But one day, right in the middle of recording, my breasts started to leak, and Bob noticed. He said, a little surprised, "What's that? You have a baby?" It was not said unkindly.

Although I was terribly embarrassed, I couldn't deny the evidence, so I just nodded.

And he said, "I could tell. Why you didn't let us know? Why you didn't ask to go home early? Is it a boy or girl?"

"Well, it's a girl," I said.

"Where is she? What is her name? Where is her father? Can I see her?"

All these questions came fast, with great concern. I stood there, looking at him, unable to answer right away. I found that concern to be very mature for a young man still in his teens -- like caring and at the same time maybe seeing me through a different eye. His interest in my baby made me feel proud instead of ashamed. That to me was a good sign, but so unexpected. Finally he said, "Go home and feed your baby and I'll see you later."

And this is where my love came in. I looked at him and thought, uh-oh, such a nice guy. And I got weak in the knees. Oh my God, I thought, oh my God.

That evening, he did come by. Sharon was about five months old then. When I brought her out, he loved her. And she loved him. When she learned to talk a little she couldn't say "Robbie," so she called him "Bahu."

From that day on, when you'd see Bob, I'd be his tail. He'd have me by the hand, walking me, come on, Rita. When all this first started, Sharon's father and I were still corresponding. Bob didn't like that and made his position clear. In fact, he insisted that I end the relationship -- why was I having anything to do with a man who wouldn't help me or the baby? One day he caught Dream with a letter to be mailed to Sharon's father and took it away from him! (That ended the correspondence.)

I learned firsthand about his generosity then, this Robbie, the kind of man he was, because whenever he had a little money he'd come by the house with some Cow & Gate baby food and a drink for Aunty. And even she began to give in to his nice ways and manners. "Well," she said, "it looks like something is going on here."

And so, though I didn't expect this, I became his. As in okay now, guys, this is my girl. Even Peter Tosh respected that and learned not to touch, because Peter was very touchy, he would see you and ohh -- hug you up and try to squeeze you.

But Bob said, no no no . . . this is my girl.

Copyright © 2004 Rita Marley Productions, Inc.

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Meet the Author

Rita Marley performs with the reggae group I-Three and helps run the Bob Marley Foundation. Rita was married to Bob Marley in 1966, when she was nineteen and he was twenty-one, and she remained his wife until his death in 1981. The mother of Bob's children, she performs worldwide. She makes her home in Ghana, West Africa.

Hettie Jones is a poet and prose writer, author of numerous books, including How I Became Hettie Jones, a memoir of the Beats and of her former marriage to LeRoi Jones (now Amiri Baraka). She lives in New York City, where she teaches writing at New School University and the 92nd Street Y Poetry Center.

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No Woman No Cry: My Life with Bob Marley 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I found this read to be written exceptionally well! For a critic to say that ardent Marley fans would be the only ones to enjoy Rita's book is insulting. The history of the Marley's was also captured even better than 'Catch A Fire' version and I read that book 5 times! I was so moved by this woman's strength and dignity throughout her famished upbringing, Bob's affairs and the heavy burden of dealing with demonic and very negative people after Bob's death. Rita's memoir serves as my Bible for a woman's courage. I will never be the same woman. I have NOTHING to complain about!! One Love
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Love the song
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Guest More than 1 year ago
After reading this book between laughter and tears and feeling the love shared between Rita and Bob coming off the pages, I realize what we as women will do for the ones we love and its not because we have to its because we want to. I own hundreds of books and read them all but this is the 'BEST' book I've read in my 27 years of reading. Like my heading Rita Marley you are my new HERO......
1goofeygirl More than 1 year ago
I am still reading this book however, was so glad to get it at Barnes and Noble as other companies of digital books could not provide me with the rest of the book due to out of country issues? However, now I am back reading it at my leisure and enjoying every minute of it. I feel as if I am there at the fence with them as they talk in the comfort of the cool evening with shy smiles and bold expression of emotions. I don't want to spoil it for you so I stop here and tell you, it is a lovely story and a very enjoyable read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This reading woman is interested in her white southern culture and equally in every other culture created by God. After reading Julia Alvarez of Domincan Republic heritage, I went on to Edwidge Danticat of Haiti. Thinking that Bob Marley was from Haiti, I found No Woman No Cry. Serendipity! What a delightful story. Sometimes biographies/autobiographies can be a waste of reading time because usually events can be told in a page or so and no one can ever REALLY tell the 'whole' truth. However, Rita Marley tells her story in the most beautiful and heartwarming manner. I am small-town and sixty-ish and somehow missed a lot of what was going on when I was younger. Mrs. Marley's book gave much: awareness of many aspects of Jamaica, Bob Marley, and Rastafari, how a woman shows class and holds her own and her children's lives together when a husband and father is being sexually unfaithful, and most of all this book exudes one wonderful woman's warmth, intelligence, humor, love, sense of the importance of giving back when you have means and even when you're struggling. I close the book as a devoted Rita Marley fan. Rita Marley is an excellent writer and, I believe, a superior, amazing person!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I think this book is outstanding and Rtia Marley oozes plenty of courage. Although sh has had her highs and lows she came through unscarred. Basically the book is about her life interwined with Bob Marley's and his growing music career.Also it describes his death at the tender age of 35. I refuse to tell you more. If you want to hear more ...get the book!