When Bob Marley passed away in Miami on May 11, 1981, at the age of 34, he left a legacy on our town, and the world.
Bob Marley onstage at the Hammersmith Odeon in London in 1977. The global superstar (and South Florida regular) recorded some of his most revered tracks in Miami’s legendary Criteria Recording Studios.
Miami is not the first place you think of when you hear the name Bob Marley—the mere mention of the musical icon stirs up images of both the lush island countryside and the desolate third-world ghettos of his native Jamaica. However, since his death here in Miami at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital (now University of Miami Hospital) 34 years ago this month, the city has become inextricably linked to his legacy.
Toward the end of his life, Marley was a regular in South Florida, having bought a house for his mother, Cedella Booker, in South Miami. He also had a presence in the hallowed halls of the Criteria Recording Studios in North Miami, where the finishing touches were put on his landmark 1976 album Rastaman Vibration. It would become his first album to crack the Billboard Top 10. “Originally we all moved to Miami to be closer to our grandmother and quickly fell in love with the vibe,” says Cedella Marley, Bob’s daughter and the CEO of the Bob Marley Group of Companies. She runs the business from Miami, overseeing everything from the legend’s music to various Marley-branded products from shoes to beverages. “It reminds our family of Jamaica.”
“He loved [Miami] because there was no pressure here,” says Bob Perry, former owner of the now-shuttered Blue Note Records, once one of Miami’s most popular record stores. Perry worked as a record promoter in the late ’70s and helped break Marley’s single “Could You Be Loved” in the US. “He always came back. It was definitely a home for him.”
Today, Marley stands as one of the foremost faces of peace, love, and liberation around the globe, with his songs having become anthems of hope and change for activists and music fans across races and nations. The next musical chapter of the Marley story is being written in Miami as well, as it’s home to Ghetto Youths International, the record label run by Bob’s Grammy-winning sons Stephen and Damian.
“My grandfather has inspired me in every way possible, and continues to do so,” says Stephen’s son, Joseph “Jo Mersa” Marley, who also calls the city home, and whose modern reggae-dancehall is infused with elements of hip-hop and EDM. “Being Miami was his home at one point, there is a strong local pride for his legacy and contribution to music.”
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ANWAR HUSSEIN/GETTY IMAGES