Mama Rita: Keeper of the flameSunday, May 09, 2021
BY KEDIESHA PERRY
The Jamaica Observer's Entertainment Desk presents the 31st in a series titled Bob Marley — The Last 40 Days, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of his passing.
MOTHER, artiste, and businesswoman Rita Marley has conquered all spheres. It's a triple achievement that Etana credits for keeping Bob Marley's legacy alive.
“You know how they say, 'Behind every strong man is a powerful woman'? That is how I describe her [Rita]. For her to support his career and bear all the challenges of motherhood and still carry on his legacy, that is phenomenal. Bob is gone but his music lives on forever, and when you think of the business side of things and how things can fizzle out if they're not properly maintained, it makes you realise how well she has done. Things would not have been so successful without her,” Etana told the Jamaica Observer.
Marley and Rita (nee Anderson) got married on February 10, 1966, four days after his 21st birthday. They remained married until his death on May 11, 1981 and share three biological children: Cedella, Ziggy and Stephen.
All have pursued successful careers in music and commerce.
Since her husband's death 40 years ago, Rita Marley has marshalled Bob Marley's legacy into a multimillion-dollar industry. Along with Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley, he consistently makes Forbes magazine 's annual list of dead celebrities making the most money.
She was present when Bob was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Grammys, and was given his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
In 2019, Rita Marley – her movement restricted by strokes – received several awards including the Order of Jamaica from the Jamaican Government.
Etana believes Bob Marley put Jamaica on the global map.
“I'm not saying people like Toots and Jimmy Cliff haven't contributed to reggae culture but when you say Jamaica, people think of Bob and when you say Bob, people think of Jamaica. This man brought the music [reggae] around the world, to every corner. When I'm going through my hardest times and have to go on stage without sleep or without eating properly, I think of Bob and all the hardships that he faced and I say, 'If he could do it, so can I,' ” she said.
Etana's favourite Marley song is Babylon System while from Rita it's One Draw.
“When Rita sang 'I wanna get high…' it wasn't just about marijuana for me, it's also about spirituality and reaching spiritual highs,” she added.
Etana (given name Shauna McKenzie) stressed that Rita, and her 'sisters' in The I-Three are role models.
“All women in the reggae and dancehall industry look up to them. We came into the industry and saw them and watched how they operated and performed. For someone who also started out as a background vocalist, I learnt something from these powerful women. I admire Rita's story and her strength,” she said.
Formed in 1974 as backing vocalists for Bob Marley and The Wailers, The I-Three also includes Marcia Griffiths and Judy Mowatt. They appeared on several of his groundbreaking albums including Natty Dread, Rastaman Vibration, and Exodus.
The trio also scored a handful of hit songs including Neighbour, Jealousy and Many Are Called, as well as established solo careers.
Being a mother and full-time entertainer seems almost insurmountable. Etana explained the difficulty of balancing both roles.
“The hardest part is when you're leaving home and they ask where you're going and how long you'll be gone, especially when you know you'll be gone for a long time. I remember leaving my newborn to go on tour for two weeks and it was very hard 'cause she was still so tiny. Of course, you also miss certain milestones while you're on the road and they're at home,” the mother of three children stated.
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