Bob Marley’s Legacy Mired in Estate Battle

Almost eight years after his death, reggae master Bob Marley still stirs people’s emotions.

On Sunday, 6,000 fans are expected to gather at the Long Beach Arena for the seventh annual Bob Marley Day concert honoring the legacy of Marley, who died of cancer on May 11, 1981. The concert, which begins at 2 p.m., features a bill headlined by veteran reggae stars Burning Spear and Judy Mowatt.

On a larger scale, the reggae sound that Marley popularized continues to make commercial inroads in this country. UB40’s “Red Red Wine” recently became the first reggae single to top the Billboard pop chart, while Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” was another surprise reggae-tinged success.

The “Conscious Party” album by Marley’s eldest son, Ziggy, and his Melody Makers band sold more than 500,000 copies, and when one of its selections, “Tumbling Down,” hit the top of Billboard’s black chart, Ziggy fulfilled a dream of his father’s--reaching the previously reggae-resistant black market.


But Ziggy Marley’s success and the increasingly rosy picture for reggae overall have camouflaged a bitter court battle over Bob Marley’s estate. On Dec. 30, Jamaica’s Supreme Court approved the $8.2-million sale of the assets of the Marley estate--including the Tuff Gong recording studio in Kingston, the merchandising rights to Marley’s image and the publishing rights for his songs--to a company headed by Island Records President Chris Blackwell. (The actual sale has been stayed pending appeals.)

Top executives at Island Records, the label that released all of Marley’s albums from 1973 until his death, declined to comment on the situation.

The Jamaican-born Blackwell, who founded Island and championed Marley and reggae when both were still unknown quantities on the international pop scene, was quoted in the Jan. 21 issue of Billboard magazine as saying: “I just felt I was the most appropriate person to buy it and I was the only one willing to take on the assets in Jamaica.”

But some--including Marley’s mother, Cedella Booker--have been critical of Blackwell’s action.


Booker, who unsuccessfully mounted a bid against Blackwell for the estate assets, has charged that Blackwell got the assets at a bargain-basement price (published reports have put the value at $30 million at the time of Marley’s death) and also claimed that the sale was insufficiently publicized outside Jamaica.

“We have to stop this because no man can buy Bob--he’s priceless,” she said in an interview. “We do want the estate to stay in the family, and I don’t think outsiders should take over because it’s a legacy that Bob left on the earth for his children and the world.”

Ironically, it was Marley’s insistence on living his life according to his Rastafarian faith that left his mother, heirs and closest associates vulnerable to the manipulations of the “Babylon system” he castigated in his music. Marley didn’t believe in wills and didn’t leave one.

Bad feelings still linger between Marley associates and his widow Rita--whom Jamaican courts removed from her post administering the estate after allegations were made that she mishandled the assets. Members of Marley’s longtime backing band, the Wailers, are currently embroiled in multimillion dollar suits against the Marley estate’s former attorney and accountant for royalties the band members contend are owed them.

And Cedella Booker is in threatened with eviction from her Miami home because the title remained in Marley’s name--even though all parties to the dispute acknowledge that it was purchased by Marley as a gift for his mother.

“I am disappointed in what has taken place but I still have a lot of room to rejoice,” Booker said. “As it is said, sorrow may last for a night but joy come in at the morning. I know that the day will come when I shall be rejoicing, even when I’m going through sorrows now.

“Bob said, ‘Don’t cry, every little thing is going to be all right,’ so when I feel the tears coming down on these words, I quickly dry my tears or hold it back. I know I mustn’t cry because Jah’s (God’s) will must be done.”

DEATH OF A JAGUAR: The diabetes-related death Sunday of Herman (Sonny) Chaney, for 35 years the lead singer of the L.A. vocal group the Jaguars, served to remind pop historians of an era of local music that has had impact all the way through the success of Los Lobos and the movie “La Bamba.” Credited as being L.A.'s first integrated pop group, the group was a key player in forging the vibrant multicultural scene that gave rise to the likes of Ritchie Valens.


“We used to play a lot at El Monte Legion Stadium, and the audiences were a good cross section of whites, Chicanos and blacks,” recalled group member Manny Chavez this week of the group’s ‘50s beginnings. “I don’t think kids today even think in those terms; it’s common to see racially mixed groups now. . . . But that was the begining of rock ‘n’ roll and they were all into the music, so they didn’t care (that the group and audience was mixed).”

The Jaguars were spurred to return to active performing in 1987 in part because of their song “Charlena’s” featured appearance in the “La Bamba” score.

Memorial services for Chaney, who last performed with the Jaguars as part of a “Legends of West Coast Doo-Wop” concert in November, will be held today at the McKinley Avenue Baptist Church, 5025 McKinley Ave. in Los Angeles.

LIVE ACTION: Ratt will headline the Los Angeles Sport Arena on March 12. Tickets are on sale now. . . . On sale today is Living Colour at the Palace on Feb. 23. . . . Also new on the Palace schedule are Michelle Shocked on March 7 and That Petrol Emotion on March 9. . . . Stryper’s Universal Amphitheatre concert scheduled for Sunday has been postponed, due to an illness in the band.