As the United States moved to enact legislation that would provide for gender equality and protect civil liberties for women, Marley assembled a team of talented female vocalists to back him on his 1974 album, Natty Dread. His endorsement of the I-Three laid the foundation for Rita Marley, Marcia Griffiths and Judy Mowatt, trailblazers who each went on to have prolific careers in music.
Griffiths was a solo act prior to joining the I-Three, Mowatt had been a member of another group, while Rita Marley had begun her career with the Soulettes before joining her would-be-husband on stage. Collaboration with Marley catapulted them into music success and earned for them a place in history.
Touring with Bob, recording with Bob, was a spiritual experience. I tell people all the time what a privilege it was just being part of his movement,” Griffiths said in a 2003 interview with a Jamaican publication. Marley brought women into the conversation on social justice, giving his own singers a platform to be heard. Songs like Could You Be Loved, and No Woman, No Cry, empowered women of colour to seek independence and focus on self-reliance.
For Mowatt, working with Marley was more than music. The 1979 European tour was an opportunity to prove that Marley was also an equal opportunity employer.
“It was when he was playing these big stadiums. He made us open the shows for him and we did backup later, and he paid us for both, which was really honorable,” she said.
Marley’s support for female empowerment is time honoured, and the legacy lives on through the Bob Marley Foundation. Along with being a female-led organisation, the foundation has made countless contributions to support women in sports and music through its fund-raising efforts.
For the 2016 Bob Marley Birthday celebrations, the foundation has announced a new partnership with the Sandals Foundation in support of an organisation called Women Helping Others Achieve.
The Bob Marley Foundation has also teamed up with beer company Red Stripe, which has given a $1 million-dollar donation to Jamaica’s Reggae Girlz for the development of the national women’s football team.