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Though he’s been gone for more than 40 years, reggae musician Bob Marley continues to delight and inspire generations with musical messages of love, spirituality, and politics. However, he wasn’t always as one of the great celebrities and a successful recording artist. In fact, Marley toiled day and night at a Chrysler assembly plant before making it as an internationally-acclaimed musician.

How Marley wound up living and working in Delaware

Bob Marley performing on stage
Bob Marley | Getty Images

The Chrysler plant where Marley was employed sits slightly south of the University of Delaware Newark campus and roughly 1,500 miles from Marley’s hometown of Nine Miles, St. Ann Parish, Jamaica. If it seems a bit odd that the man who popularized Jamaican-style rock-steady, ska, and reggae music would find himself in New England, the situation is easily explained.

Marley’s mom, Cedella Booker, moved to Wilmington, Delaware to live with her sister after the death of Marley’s father in 1955. Born to British settlers in Jamaica, Captain Norval Sinclair Marley was foreman of the Booker family plantation when he fathered future reggae star Robert Nesta Marley in 1945.

Booker remarried and opened a Market Street record shop in Wilmington, where she remained until 1976, when she packed up and moved to Miami in the wake of a robbery at her store, explains Repeating Islands.

Marley, the musician, and his wife, Cuban-born Alpharita Constantia “Rita” Marley, moved to Delaware in 1965 and lived there sporadically until 1976. During this time, Marley worked a number of jobs, including a short-lived stint as a lab assistant at DuPont.

He also had two jobs at the local Chrysler assembly plant, where he worked the line daily and operated a forklift after dark. It was the second Chrysler gig that inspired Marley to compose the song “Night Shift” which appeared on his 1976 album, Rastaman Vibration.

Marley’s employment in Delaware was a means to an end

In Delaware, the Marleys lived frugally and squirreled away enough cash for Bob to found his own record label, Tuff Gong, in Jamaica in 1970, explains the National Automobile Dealers Association.

Before starting his own record company, Marley and his band The Wailers recorded several singles and albums for the Receiver, Hip-O, and Island-Polygram labels, say AllMusic. Marley’s first album under the Tuff Gong label was 1973’s Burnin, followed by Natty Dread in 1974 and Live! In 1975. Critically acclaimed as they are now, none of Marley’s early recordings garnered the worldwide attention of his 1976 release, Rastaman Vibration.

Marley’s legend-defining songs, including “Buffalo Soldier,” “Lively Up Yourself,” “I Shot The Sheriff,” “Get Up Stand Up,” and “Stir It Up,” present messages of love and political statements backed with catchy tunes, explains Udiscovermusic.

What happened to Marley and the Chrysler plant that inspired him

After performing a 1980 concert at Madison Square Garden, Marley collapsed while enjoying a jog in New York’s Central Park. Days later, explains History, the singing sensation was diagnosed with metastatic cancer that started in an injured toe before spreading to his liver, lungs, and brain. Robert Nesta Marley left an unparalleled musical legacy when he died in a Miami hospital on May 11, 1981. Marley was 36 years old.

In February 2007, the Newark Chrysler plant where Marley found musical inspiration announced its decision to close the facility by 2009. As part of a company-wide restructuring plan, Chrysler ultimately laid off or outright fired some 13,000 jobs in the U.S. and Canada, explained World Socialist Web Site who went on the say that in a town with an unemployment rate 60% higher than the national average, the closure of the Chrysler plant would be economically devastating.

In 2019, BANGshift reported that the 252-acre site had been sold to the University of Delaware and that an auction of every remnant of the Chrysler plant would be sold at auction in February.


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