Rita Marley Becomes The Lioness Of Reggae
(born July 25, 1946) is a Cuban-born Jamaican singer and Bob Marley’s widow. She was a member of the I-Threes, who gained fame as the backing vocalists for Bob Marley and the Wailers, along with Marcia Griffiths and Judy Mowatt.
Rita Marley was best known as Bob Marley’s wife, but she was also a solo artist before and after her marriage, and she took care of her husband’s legacy after his untimely death in 1981. Alpharita Anderson was born in Cuba and grew up in Kingston’s Trenchtown neighborhood, where she first sang with the Soulettes, a female ska trio.
In 1964, the Soulettes began recording for Clement “Coxsone” Dodd’s Studio One label, and Dodd asked his rising young star Bob Marley to mentor them; Marley and Anderson married in 1966. In the mid-’60s, Rita recorded with two different Soulettes lineups, had a few hit solo singles (including “Pied Piper”), and backed the Wailers on a few recordings.
Rita helped organize the I-Threes, a female vocal trio consisting of herself, Marcia Griffiths, and Judy Mowatt, after Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer left the Wailers in 1974. Bob Marley’s I-Threes backed him up in the studio and on the road for the rest of his career, until he died of melanoma in 1981.
Throughout that time, Marleys narrowly avoided being assassinated in 1976, when one bullet grazed Rita’s head and another grazed Bob’s arm.
Rita recorded the solo album Who Feels It Knows It in 1981, as Bob was dying of cancer. The album featured a lighthearted hit single in “One Draw,” a blatantly pro-marijuana lesson in proper smoking technique, and was a spiritual, life-affirming statement. “One Draw,” which was banned by the BBC, was the first reggae single to reach the top of Billboard’s disco singles chart, which tracked dance-club play at the time. Another single, “Play Play,” had some success in the United Kingdom.
Marley, on the other hand, found it difficult to pursue a full-time recording career; she spent much of the 1980s managing the various legal and business interests associated with her late husband’s name and estate, as well as mentoring her children’s band, Ziggy Marley & the Melody Makers. Harambe (Working Together for Freedom) marked her return to solo recording in 1988, and We Must Carry On followed in 1991, earning her a Grammy nomination.
Her knack for danceable, rootsy reggae with spiritual messages and a distinct sense of fun was evident on both albums. In 2003, Marley released a new album, Rita Marley Sings Bob Marley…and Friends.