After Bob Marley's tragic death in 1981, the responsibility of holding the family together fell on his wife Rita, originally known as Alfarita Anderson. She and Bob got married in 1966. They had three children - Cedella, Ziggy and Stephen - who later formed the Melody Makers.
July 25 is Rita's 75th birthday. Cedella tells Rolling Stone how difficult it was for her mother after Bob died from cancer: "With Daddy passing, she had to become very vocal. Certain people in the Rastafarian faith were saying, ‘No, no, no, let da man handle it.’ What man? There’s no man. The man is gone. And there’s no backup man. It’s the woman.”
In additon to being Bob's wife, Rita was a singer in the band. "It was important for her to be on the road with Daddy," Cedella says. "People go on the road and switch up real quick. You can leave humble and turn into a monster. I’ve seen it happen."
Cedella Marley on her mother: "So she was like Yoko. She didn’t try to keep [Bob] away from friends, but she was a protective force."
“She had to grow a very broad back to take on responsibilities she wasn’t prepared for," Cedella continues. "And that made a lot of people pissed when he passed, because they thought they were going to be the second in command.”
Regarding the early days of managing the Marley estate, Cedella comments, "The people she trusted were condemning her, so it was a little confusing. She got through that. But it did take a heavy toll on her.”
More recently, Rita has had to deal with physical maladies, such as a series of strokes. After moving to Ghana, she now resides in Florida close to family members. "I said to her, ‘You need to just relax now. The grave is not calling you, so I’m’a just make you chill,'" Cedella notes. "So that’s how we look at it.”
Rita has been medicating with functional mushrooms, which will soon be available from Marley One. “We have one that is for the mind and cognitive stuff, and she takes it in the morning," Cedella reports. "We have another one to level off your mood. She sampled every single one. She was the taste tester. She’s very excited about Marley One, I must say.”
Watch the Rita Marley 75th Tribute Concert and Live Stream on July 25 at 4 pm ET.
When I was music editor of HIgh Times I became the self-appointed liaison to the Marley family. It started when we put Ziggy Marley on the cover in 1993. I went to Kingston early in 1995 for the 25th anniverary of Bob's death; a concert was held at the 56 Hope Rd. location where the family once lived and has since housed Tuff Gong Studio and the Marley Museum.
The day after the conceret I had an appointment to meet Ziggy and Stephen at the studio. I went with High Times photog Brian Jahn. As we walked in, there was Rita. She was holding a large ganja cola, which she folded in half and placed under her arm. We had a quick hello and then went into the studio. I was recruiting Ziggy & the Melody Makers to contribute a song to the benefit album, Hempilation: Freedom Is NORML, which was comng out later that year. Ziggy played us "In the Flow," a track from their upcoming album. He said he'd like it to appear on Hempilation as well. We had a deal.
We invited Rita to join us at the 10th Annual Cananabis Cup in Amsterdam in 1997 and she agreed to accept an award on behalf of Bob. The day she was supposed to arrive, I was escorted to Schiphol Airport by Arjan Roskam from the Green House. We waited and waited. No Rita. We returned to the city with long faces. The next morning the phone rang in my hotel room. "It's Rita," the Marley matriarch said cheerfully. "I'm at the airport." I made arrangements to meet her at her hotel at 5 pm. The plan was to take Rita to the Melkweg venue where the Cannabis Cup Band was rehearsing a set of Marley tunes to be played that night. We were all hoping Rita would agree to join them on stage. After a quick stop at the hotel, I brought her and a friend to the Melkweg where Rita listened for a few minutes, shook her head affirmatively and promptly walked up and started singing with the band.
Later that night, we presented the award and had a Marley tribute concert during which Rita performed "One Draw" (listen to the studio recording below), declaring it the official Cannabis Cup song. Before she returned to Jamaica, we heard Rita had a little mishap in her room when a fire broke out. But fortunately there was no major damage and no one was hurt. Bob would've been proud.