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June is Black Music Month and WERS at Night will recognize black musicians, composers, singers, and songwriters who have made enormous contributions to the music industry. Today, June 14th, Rockers is highlighting Rita Marley.
Perhaps best known for being the wife of Bob Marley, Rita Marley has created a musical and philanthropic legacy of her own right. Born Alpharita Anderson in Cuba, she grew up largely in the Trenchtown section of Kingston and first sang with a female ska trio called the Soulettes. The Soulettes began recording for Clement “Coxsone” on Dodd’s Studio One label in 1964 and Dodd asked his emerging young star Bob Marley to mentor them. Rita recorded with two different Soulettes lineups in the mid-’60s, cut a few hit solo singles of her own, including “Pied Piper”, and backed the Wailers on some of their 60s recordings. When Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer left the Wailers in 1974, Rita helped organize the I-Threes, a female vocal trio consisting of herself, Marcia Griffiths, and Judy Mowatt. The I-Threes backed Bob Marley in the studio and on tour for the remainder of his career up until his death from cancer in 1981.
After the death of her late husband, Rita recorded the solo album Who Feels It Knows It. A spiritual, life-affirming statement, the album featured the lighthearted hit single “One Draw”, a blatantly pro-marijuana lesson in proper smoking technique. Banned by the BBC, “One Draw” became the first reggae single to top Billboard’s disco singles chart, which was used to track dance-club music at the time. Another single, “Play Play”, had a measure of success in the U.K. as well. After this album, she turned to handling the legal and estate affairs of Bob Marley and mentoring the various musical ventures of her children. Soon after, she returned to solo recording with 1988′s Harambe (Working Together for Freedom), and followed it in 1991 with We Must Carry On, which garnered a Grammy nomination. Both albums continued her knack for anceable, rootsy reggae with spiritual messages and a definite sense of fun. Marley’s latest album was 2006’s Gifted Fourteen Carnation.
Recent musical endeavours include her appearance on the song “Mary Jane Shoes” on Fergie’s multi-platinum album The Dutchess. Rita also performed background vocals to the song “Raikoum” by Khaled on his album Liberté and “Ouelli El Darek” by Khaled off of Sahra.
In addition to her successful music career, Rita Marley is engaged heavily in philanthropic work. She is the Founder and Chairperson of the Robert Marley Foundation, Bob Marley Trust, Bob Marley Group of Companies, and Rita Marley Foundation. Both the Bob Marley and Rita Marley Foundations are committed to social advocacy and advancing the lives of Africans in various countries through helping to reduce poverty. The Rita Marley Foundation also gives out scholarships to African students who want to attend Berklee College of Music. Personally, she has also adopted 35 children in Ethiopia and has pledged her support to over 200 children in a Methodist school in Ghana. She has committed to making a positive impact in their lives.
For her long history in music, musical success, and philanthropy, we honor the legacy of Rita Marley as a part of Black Music Month.