Rita Marley – Celebrating the Lioness of Reggae ahead of her 75th birthday
On February 10, 1966, just five months shy of her 20th birthday, Alferita Constantia Anderson started what would undoubtedly be the most remarkable journey of her life. She tied the knot in holy matrimony with a musician and singer named Robert Nesta Marley, who, incidentally, had celebrated his 21st birthday four days prior.
There is an iconic picture of the couple on that special day, Rita and Bob, as they would come to be known worldwide, looking at each other, and, if asked to describe the image, a 21st-century caption would say something like this: “If happiness was a couple ...”.
On February 10, 2021, the couple’s first son, Ziggy, took to social media and posted that very picture. He wrote, “Fifty-five years ago today, these two lovebirds got married @officialritamarley @bobmarley happy anniversary their love is eternal through good times and bad times from struggling to surviving they are truly a team. JAH.”
Their daughter, Cedella, also shared that picture of marital bliss. In her tribute to her parents, she said, “Yesterday marked 55 years since these two got married. Happy Anniversary, Mama Lion and Daddy.”
Although reggae legend Bob Marley transcended 40 years ago, his presence is still as potent – or perhaps even more so – than it was when he and Rita started that crucial journey some 55 years ago. Quizzed by The Sunday Gleaner about some of her treasured memories with Bob, Rita Marley’s answer was one sentence long, and in it, she quoted parts of her sacred wedding vows.
“All memories with my husband are treasured … for richer or poorer … sickness and health,” was her response.
BORN IN CUBA IN 1946
The year 2021 ushers in another milestone celebration for the Marley matriarch who has nurtured not only her own children and others fathered by her husband, but countless others, from Jamaica to Africa. The acclaimed Nana turns 75 this year. It was on July 25, 1946, that Alferita (commonly misspelt Alpharita) Constantia Anderson was born in Santiago de Cuba, the second-largest city in Cuba, to parents Leroy Anderson and Cynthia Jarrett. She came to Jamaica as a baby and has no memories of a birthplace which she has never visited, but she shared that she hopes, one day, to visit Cuba.
Rita Marley, however, is an honorary citizen of Ghana, a title bestowed on her by the Ghanaian government on August 3, 2013, and this remarkable woman, whose steps have ‘trod’ as steadfastly in pain as they have in joy, in November 2015 was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by The University of the West Indies.
An original executive director of Tuff Gong International (1981-present); an entertainer, both as one-third of the internationally acclaimed vocal trio, the I-Three, as well as in her own right and the respected widow of Reggae King Bob Marley, Dr Alferita Marley is being celebrated as a queen on her 75th birthday. In 2020, Tuff Gong International kick-started a year-long celebration, dubbed the ‘Year of the Lioness’ set to culminate on July 25 this year. The company noted that the aim is to highlight Rita Marley as a game-changer in the reggae music industry.
STARTED BOB MARLEY MUSEUM
It was Rita Marley who was inspired to start the Bob Marley Museum at 56 Hope Road and establish the annual birthday celebration that is now responsible for bringing hundreds of thousands of visitors to Jamaica, notable among them US President Barack Obama, who during his brief visit to the island made the museum one of his stops.
“Fifty-six Hope Road was really the headquarters for everything. It is the place where Bob recorded, created, and even played football in the yard! His spirit and energy are still there, along with so much history. I wanted to preserve and protect that in one central space. The Bob Marley Museum is the place where people from all over the world can visit to experience Bob Marley’s music and vision,” Marley recalled.
In talking about her friend Rita Marley during a recent interview with David Browne of Rolling Stone, Marcia Griffiths emphasised her unique voice. “Rita is the only person who could sing the same melody with Bob, and it is not clashing. Rita played so many different roles. We used to call her ‘Mother Hen’ on tour. She was responsible for making sure that Bob was okay on tour. She would get rid of all the people who were there just hanging out in the room. She was very stern and was always on top of it all. That was one of the things Judy and I admired about her. She was a true, natural-born leader. Rita knew what she wanted. Sister Rita has done great as a female solo artiste. That is one of her many accomplishments,” Griffiths said.
Commenting on the effects of Bob Marley’s death, she added, “After Bob’s passing, it was a trying time for her and lots of other women would not have been able to come out triumphant. I saw moments, but she stood strong, and at the end of it all, she came through.”
On the cusp of her 75th birthday, Rita Marley has hopes and aspirations for her own children and grandchildren. She wants for them to be “healthy and happy”, and she hopes that they can “continue the works that their parents and grandparents started”.
On Saturday, July 17, a live concert, Rita Marley: Mystic of a Queen was broadcast from Kingston, featuring performances from Marcia Griffiths, Judy Mowatt, Tanya Stephens, Tessanne, Nadine Sutherland, Queen Ifrica, and Ernie Smith. The Mystic of a Queen concert marked the first time that SiriusXM has staged a live broadcast event from Kingston, Jamaica, directly to its subscribers in North America.
As Rita Marley gets ready to mark her 75th birthday on July 25, The Sunday Gleaner presents a special two-part exclusive looking at the woman behind the Marley family — her early years and legacy.