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Bob Marley’s Jewish Father

On what would have been Marley’s 68th birthday, a look at his roots

Adam Chandler
February 06, 2013
Bob Marley With Chai (Photo © Kim Gottlieb-Walker, from her book "Bob Marley and the Golden Age of Reggae")
Bob Marley With Chai (Photo © Kim Gottlieb-Walker, from her book "Bob Marley and the Golden Age of Reggae")

This past August, The Scroll made the startlingly discovery that Elvis Presley, the King of Rock, was in fact halakhically Jewish. Would lightning strike twice on Bob Marley’s 68th birthday?

The love affair between Jews and Bob Marley is one of the world’s worst kept secrets. For some, it has to do with Marley’s music as some kind of aural accompaniment for smoking pot. For others, it has to do with the attribution of Jewish wandering (“Exodus”) or the defiance and prideful yearning for home (“Iron Lion Zion” and “Redemption Song”) in Marley’s songs. For others yet, it’s less cliché more inchoate.

So when we learned that Marley’s father, Norval, from whom Marley was estranged, was the son of Ellen Broomfield, a white Jewish Syrian Jamaican (beat that!), it made some sense. Norval Marley was born in Jamaica in 1885 (although the record is disputed) and, by the time he paired up with Marley’s mother Cedella, he was said to have been 60 years old. Norval Marley’s relationship with Cedella didn’t last long and he died of a heart attack when Marley was 12.

Does this mean we can claim Bob Marley? No, probably not. But if we did, here are some Marley tracks that I’d love to see.

“I Shot the Shochet”
“Do Worry”
“Buffalo Schleper”
“Could You Be Lourved?”

Got any others?

Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.

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