Bob Marley died of cancer on May 11, 1981, at the premature age of thirty-six. By then he was well known to college kids worldwide, but few could have foreseen the celebrity he has attained since. Born in Jamaica, he is the only third-world performer to be elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 1999, the BBC named his “One Love” the “Song of the Millennium”; the same year Time declared his 1977 Exodus the “Best Album of the Twentieth Century.” Voted the third-greatest songwriter of all time in a 2001 BBC poll (behind Bob Dylan and John Lennon), Marley has sold an estimated 50 million records worldwide. On the 2007 Forbes list of “Top-Earning Dead Celebrities,” he ranked twelfth, with his estate earning an estimated $4 million. His posthumous greatest-hits collection, Legend (1984), is among the top-selling compilations of all time. Twenty-seven years after his death, there is perhaps no country where his songs—wry ballads and martial anthems, with soothing or stirring melodies—aren’t familiar.
Before 1983, Grenada was best known for producing, along with its famous spice, the great calypso singer Mighty Sparrow. Afterward, it was known for the traumas left by a sad episode of the cold war whose legacy, for our current political era, is the subject of a welcome new documentary film, The House on Coco Road, directed by Damani Baker.
What’s inarguable is that our country is now led by a man who received millions fewer votes than his opponent, but won the presidency thanks to an institution—the Electoral College—that was set up to protect the interests and ideas of slave-owning states like John Calhoun’s. We are, in 2017, still waging the battles of the nineteenth century.