The oldest son of reggae legend Bob Marley and his wife Rita, Ziggy Marley was the natural heir to the throne left vacant by his father’s untimely death in 1981. Along with backing band the Melody Makers, a unit comprising his brothers and sisters, he successfully carried on the tradition of communicating the music’s message to a growing global audience, even scoring a U.S. Top 40 single in the process — a claim neither of his parents could make. Born David Marley in Kingston, Jamaica on October 17, 1968, he received guitar and drum lessons from his father, and began sitting in on Wailers recording sessions at the age of ten. In 1979, Ziggy, his sister Cedella, brother Stephen, and half-sister Sharon all joined Bob in the studio to record the single “Children Playing in the Streets.” Christened the Melody Makers, the four siblings continued playing together at family events, and even performed at their father’s state funeral.
Marley was not even 17 when he and the Melody Makers issued their EMI debut LP, Play the Game Right. The burdens of becoming a second-generation star weighed heavily on the youth — who looked and sounded almost eerily like his father — and he allowed the record and its 1986 follow-up, Hey World!, to veer closely toward pop music, resulting in derision from reggae purists. Poor sales, combined with EMI’s public desire to market Ziggy Marley as a solo act, prompted Marley & the Melody Makers to jump to the Virgin label, where they entered the studio to record their masterpiece, 1988’s Conscious Party. Produced by Talking Heads’ Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth, the album was both a critical and commercial smash, with the single “Tomorrow People” reaching number 39 on the pop charts. The follow-up, 1989’s One Bright Day, continued the Melody Makers’ artistic growth; it was also their best-selling effort to date, cracking the Top 20 and, like its predecessor, winning a Grammy.
Marley & the Melody Makers resurfaced in 1991 with Jahmekya, another assured and creative effort. It sold well, edging into the Top 20, but failed to generate much radio or video airplay. Released in 1993, Joy and Blues barely charted, despite adding elements of contemporary dancehall (a showcase for Stephen’s rapping skills). The latter record was the Melody Makers’ last release for Virgin, and they moved to Elektra for 1995’s Free Like We Want 2 B. Fallen Is Babylon followed in 1997, and scored a third Grammy. Like his father, Marley eventually emerged as a leading political voice, and was named a Goodwill Youth Ambassador for the United Nations; at home in Kingston, he also founded his own record label, Ghetto Youths United, created to spotlight the next generation of reggae talent.
In addition to the four siblings in the Melody Makers, three other Marley children — Damian, Julian, and Ky-Mani — also pursued careers in music. The music continued into the new millennium, as Marley released Ziggy Marley & the Melody Makers Live, Vol. 1 in fall 2000. Without the Melody Makers, Dragonfly was released as his first official solo album in 2003, but its 2006 follow-up, Love Is My Religion, was the one with the hit, as the album’s title track put Ziggy back on reggae radio throughout the globe. His 2009 effort, Family Time, was a charming children’s album, while 2011’s Wild and Free returned to the socially conscious reggae that launched his career. In 2012, he released his first comic book featuring the hero Marijuanaman, and followed it in 2013 with the live album In Concert. The diverse Fly Rasta followed a year later and featured a Melody Makers reunion thanks to guest appearances from Erica Newell plus Sharon and Cedella Marley. The album won Best Reggae Album at the 57th Grammy Awards. In 2016 he returned with his sixth solo — but first self-titled — album, which featured the single “Weekend’s Long.” Returning in 2018, Marley’s self-produced seventh album, Rebellion Rises, was directed toward themes of activism and social change. ~ Jason Ankeny