Rita Marley’s new book about her life married to and collaborating with reggae musician Bob Marley is the poster book for the great old cliché “behind every successful man is a woman.” Of course, in Ms. Marley’s case, she is not just the woman behind his success but also the woman willing to have and raise his children, promote his career, and look the other way when Bob was blatantly engaging in extra-marital affairs.
Rita’s story begins when she is just a child being raised by her Aunty in Trench Town, Kingston, Jamaica, and quickly moves through to her teenage years when she bears her first daughter and meets Bob (then known as Robbie), who is working at a local studio with Peter Tosh and Neville “Bunny” Livingston under the group name Wailing Wailers. Loving music herself, Rita puts herself in their path, literally, and soon strikes up friendships and singing connections. Soon after, she and Bob are married and alternate between living with Rita’s Aunty, traveling to the United States, and returning to Bob’s childhood home, St. Ann’s (where Rita describes her happiest memories of their time together, despite the provincial style of living).
After meeting Chris Blackwell of Island Records, who supports and promotes Bob’s work monetarily, Rita begins to be pushed out of the picture as a parade of women come through Bob’s new digs at Island House in Jamaica. Rita decides to move to Bell Bay and make a home of her own. While Rita is hurting from Bob’s affairs, she does not turn Bob away when he visits and feels that he is committed to taking care of his family despite his lack of presence. Rita even agrees to “adopt” children that Bob has had with other women and eventually raises a family of eight children while continuing to pursue a singing career, running a juice bar, traveling, and farming organically.
Rita’s commitment to her husband and her children is impressive and commendable, although it is a bit tiresome in the guise of a biography/memoir. While Rita is not "preachy", the reader is given the impression that the book is a kind of forum for life philosophies rather than a remembrance. Many of Rita’s specific flashbacks seem to be a means to explain (or perhaps rationalize) a lifestyle rather than a desire to share the actual memory.
Rita makes the memoir her own by talking about her life after Bob’s death in 1981, when he was only 35 and Rita only 31. She writes of her continued struggles to provide for her family, launch a solo career as well as the careers of some of her children, find a partner to share her life with, and about her joy at finally reaching Africa - specifically Ghana - and her commitment to making a better life for those who live there.
It is clear that Rita Marley has a big heart and is an exceptional woman. She was forced to learn many tough lessons as a very young woman and did not let that keep her form seeing the goodness in humanity and spreading that joy herself. Her conversationally written memoir is entertaining and uplifting and sure to be of interest to any fan of the Marley family.