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Bob Marley and the Wailers

Bob Marley’s group, the Wailers, evolved out of previous projects and became the most important reggae touring act of the 1970s, bringing the Jamaican musical form to audiences around the globe. Originally a doo-wop-tinged ska group known variously as the Teenager, the Wailing Rudeboys, and the Wailing Wailers, the Wailers began as a four-piece band featuring Marley, Junior Braithwaite, Peter Tosh, Neville Livingston, and two backup vocalists, Cherry Smith and Beverly Kelso. The band’s first hit, “Simmer Down,” featured a ska group, the Skatalites, and was produced by Clement “Coxsone” Dodd of the successful Coxsone Sound System. The single gained success due to its subject matter, which instructed the “rude boy” gangs in Kingston to quell urban violence. Having recorded a series of LPs for local labels Trojan and Upsetter, the Wailers were signed by Island Records executive Chris Blackwell, whose intention was not to bill the band as a reggae group but rather as a black rock act. Its first album under Island was the seminal Catch a Fire. Due to the changing location of their performances and intense Rastafarian faith, Peter Tosh and Neville Livingston left the group. Marley took the opportunity to reorient the band, formally changing the name to Bob Marley and the Wailers and incorporating the I-Three, a female backup singing trio consisting of Rita Marley, Judy Mowatt, and Marcia Griffiths. The group continued to release regularly and tour globally through the late 1970s. On April 17, 1980 the Wailers played a concert at midnight for the newly independent nation of Zimbabwe. The band’s social, historical, and cultural importance has not lessened since the death of Bob Marley in 1981 from intentionally untreated cancer.