Reggae’s iconic queen Rita reigns despite illness

Reggae’s iconic queen Rita reigns despite illness
Icons I-Three Judy Mowatt, Rita Marley, Marcia Griffiths with Olivia Grange, Jamaica’s minister of culture at right.

Jamaicans attending the Ash Wednesday, March 6, 2019 Jamaica Reggae Industry Association (JaRia) Awards in Kingston were privileged to greet Rita Marley, the avowed queen of reggae who suffered a setback in her musical career two years ago when a stroke ended her singing career.

Making a debut since the ill-fated health event hampered her ability to speak audibly the beloved entertainer spoke volumes despite the fact she is unable to articulate the sentiments she once expressed with ease and clarity.

Her circular, red, gold and green earrings fashionably amplified three words — “Black Girls Rock.”

Her fingernails boasted black, gold and red, colors on alternate fingers.

And a shiny, gold fabric across her forehead coordinated with the gold-sequined adornment that draped from neck to waistline bellowed royalty.

With grace and elegance she blew kisses to the crowd.

In turn, the privileged gathering at the Little Theater responded with expressions of love.

They seemed ecstatic to see the revered widow of reggae king Robert Nesta Marley and mother to his children—each one acclaimed for winning the most Grammy Awards for the genre — and a singer in her own right who despite adversities joined her two longtime musical collaborators Judy Mowatt and Marcia Griffith to accept the coveted Icon Award during the annual Reggae Month ceremony.

Focused on sending air kisses to the crowd, the widow, matriarch. Grammy nominated solo singer, entrepreneur, African nationalist, social activist and author made her first major public appearance there since the debilitating health trauma two and a half years ago in order to celebrate the culture she dedicated most of her life to promoting.

Unable to steady her stride, the Marley matriarch was escorted by a cortege of assistants who seemed to pamper her through arrival onstage via a wheelchair.

On seeing the beloved singer, the crowd cheered her appearance, many rushing forward to applaud the courage she braved by travelling to unite with women she toured with as a member of the I-Three.

The trio described in lyrics by the world’s first Third World superstar to being as melodic as — Three Little Birds entreated the crowd to a glimpse of a tradition of more than three decades they repeated while providing background accompaniment to the reggae king on stages throughout the world.

“This is indeed a privilege and an honor — a pleasure for us to be here. We thank Almighty God that we are here, so many have gone on before us, but we are here and so we give thanks. I am very, very, happy that my sister Rita is here with us,” Mowatt said.

The spokesperson for the triumvirate explained: “It has been a hard journey for us. We worked tirelessly — pregnant, coming off tour and just going to the hospital to have the baby, but here we are. I want to thank JaRIA for presenting us with this award. It has been over 30-odd years, but today, in 2019, we are still being recognized, and still being awarded. We give God thanks.”

Griffiths punctuated the statement adding: “Trinity unbroken” to the testimony.

“Harambe forever to the world,” she said.

Together they hugged and kissed the sister they harmonized with in order to demonstrate love and devotion.

Born in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba, July 25, 1946, Alpharita Anderson AKA Rita Marley moved to Jamaica with her family and in her teenaged years formed a female, reggae singing group.

She married Bob Marley in 1966.

Since his death in 1981 Rita toured globally as a solo singer, formed Rita Marley Music a publishing and recording music label and also launched the career of Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, a band headlined by her sons and daughters David AKA Ziggy, Stephen, Cedella and Sharon.

Simultaneously, she embarked on a campaign to preserve the legacy of her husband establishing a museum in his honor, building a recording studio in Ghana, Africa, and on the anniversaries of his birthday annually hosts huge tributes in Kingston, Ghana, South Africa the largest of which attracted 350,000 to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on his 60th.

Marley has been relentless in maintaining the highest profile of her Rock and Roll Hall of Famed spouse who died of cancer in Miami, Florida on May 11, 1981.

On her 70th birthday in 2016 she hosted her own birthday celebration combining African and Jamaican cultural traditions to mark the occasion regaled in Nassau, Bahamas.

Surrounded by what seemed like a dynasty that serenaded her, children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, royalties from the reggae fraternity — including, musicians, singers, producers, arrangers and even Chris Blackwell, the founder of the largest reggae distributing reggae label in the world attended.

On March 8, International Women’s Day, her youngest son Stephen paid tribute to his iconic mother by posting a love tribute on Twitter.

“A strong woman is one who feels deeply and loves fiercely. Her tears flow as abundantly as her laughter. A strong woman is both soft and powerful, she is both practical and spiritual. A strong woman in her essence is a gift to the world.”

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