Updated: May 13, 2021
Four decades after Bob Marley's death on May 11, 1981 from skin cancer, the reggae icon's legacy lives on. The Jamaican singer, musician and songwriter was just 36 when he died, but four decades after his untimely demise — a period longer than the reggae icon's brief but potent life — his music is still heard and enjoyed across the world.
His rich anthems of peace and struggle, hope and discontent, still reverberate globally and especially in his native Jamaica, a small nation whose rich culture its most famous son popularized on an international stage.
"It is said the brightest stars sometimes don't burn as long and, in many ways, Bob Marley was our brightest star; he accomplished a lot in a short period of time,"
said Judy Mowatt, an original member of the influential I-Threes trio whose vocals backed Marley.
"His words have been prophetic -- he was a man who believed everything he sung, it wasn't just lyrics and music."
The singer-songwriter remains a global sensation today as the face of reggae, his unmistakable voice immediately recognized in hits such as No Woman, No Cry, Buffalo Soldier and Get Up Stand Up.
He sang of “poverty, justice, oppression, and cried out for dignity and hope,” as summed up by The New York Times. Marley was a member of The Wailers from 1963 to 1974, then began his solo career.
Marley was married to Rita Marley, his wife of 15 years, when he died, and he had eleven children.
In honor of the 40th anniversary of his death, let's take a look at his inspiring music that lives on nearly 40 years after his passing.
14. Turn Your Lights Down Low
This was the only song on side B of Exodus to not be released as a single.
However, it was later re-released as an updated duet with the Fugees' Lauryn Hill, becoming an international hit single in 1999.
13. 'Stir It Up'
First recorded back in 1967, this was one of Bob Marley and The Wailers' first hits outside America.
It wasn't a proper hit until 1972, when Johnny Nash released a cover version.
12. 'Get Up Stand Up'
Marley wrote this song with Peter Tosh while touring Haiti, after being deeply moved by its poverty and the lives of Haitians.
The song was often performed at Marley's concerts, and was usually the last song of the night. It was also the last song Marley ever performed on stage, on September 23, 1980 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
11. 'Sun is Shining'
Although this eventually became one of the most popular Marley songs, it was actually a fairly unknown track during his lifetime. Only two live performances are even documented.
The song found a new lease of life when it was sampled by Funkstar Deluxe in a successful dance track in 1999.
10. 'I Shot the Sheriff'
The story of this song is told from the point of view of a man who admits to having killed the corrupt local sheriff, but was falsely accused of having killed the deputy sheriff.
It was later a big hit for Eric Clapton, after he took on a soft rock/reggae hybrid for his version.
9. Satisfy My Soul
This track featured on Marley's 1978 album Kaya.
Marley and the Wailers received criticism at the time for "going soft" due to the album's laid-back nature, including songs abound love and marijuana. However, over time it is considered one of their best.
8. 'One Love/People Get Ready'
Originally recorded as a ska song in 1965, it was later reworked and became one of Bob Marley's biggest hits in the 1970s.
The song contains elements of The Impressions' song 'People Get Ready' written by Curtis Mayfield. The original version didn't credit Mayfield's song and was simply titled 'One Love', as copyright law was not enforced in Jamaica at the time. When the more famous version was released in 1977, it was retitled and credited Mayfield.
6. 'Redemption Song'
One of Bob Marley's most inspiring and popular songs, its lyrics derived from a speech by the Pan-Africanist speaker Marcus Garvey called 'The Work That Has Been Done'.
When he wrote it, Bob Marley had been diagnosed with cancer. According to Rita Marley: "he was already secretly in a lot of pain and dealt with his own mortality, a feature that is clearly apparent in the album, particularly in this song".
5. 'Buffalo Soldier'
This classic Marley track did not appear on a record until the 1983 posthumous release of Confrontation.
The title and lyrics refer to the black US cavalry regiments, known as 'Buffalo Soldiers', who fought in the Indian Wars after 1866. Marley compared their fight to a general fight for survival.