Over four days in late October 1979, Bob Marley and The Wailers performed seven shows at the legendary Apollo Theater, marking the first-ever reggae performances at the recently reopened Harlem venue.
The shows, beginning on October 25 and ending on October 28, would add to the rich history of the Apollo and connect Marley with the one-time home of fellow Jamaican, Marcus Garvey.
The shows at the Apollo were the third stop on his Survival tour, which had kicked off on October 21 in Boston at Harvard Stadium with Stevie Wonder.
A day later, Marley and The Wailers would perform at Madison Square Garden in New York.
The album Survival still stands as one of Marley’s most politically charged albums, featuring anthems “Africa Unite” and “Zimbabwe,” the latter celebrating the fall of the white supremacist regime in Rhodesia.
A mixed audience of African Americans, West Indians, and whites were reported by Clinton Lindsay, a Jamaican student at the New York Institute of Technology. In covering the shows for the college newspaper, Scope, he noted.
Part of the reason Marley sought to perform in Harlem was due to the connection of Harlemite Marcus Garvey to the neighborhood. Garvey was a Jamaican-born writer and speaker in the early 20th century who encouraged the Pan-African movementa, emphasizing unity between African-Americans and their ancestral lands.
Garvey would inspire Rastafarians advocating for Pan-Africanism. Marley would perform at the Apollo with three backdrops: one of the Ethiopian flag, one of Ethiopian emporer Haile Selassie I, revered by Rastafarians, and one of Garvey, Selassie and guerilla fighters.
Listen to the full (59 minute) concert below:
The lineup for the Apollo residency included Bob Marley on vocals and rhythm guitar, Aston Barrett (bass), Carlton Barrett (drums), Junior Marvin (lead guitar), Al Anderson (lead guitar), Tyrone Downie (keyboards), Earl “Wya” Lindo (organ), Alvin “Seeco” Patterson (percussion), Devon Evans (percussion), Glen DaCosta (saxophone), Dave Madden (trumpet) and The I-Threes (backing vocals).
Opening the shows was Betty Wright, known for “Clean up Woman” and “Tonight is the Night,” singing with a range from disco to soul.
While the Times felt that Marley was less energetic, he had begun to use his presence on stage to preach and inspire, with impassioned vocals and an audience that quickly warmed up and threw their energy back at the stage.
These historic performances would be among Marley’s last shows in New York, returning the next September to open for The Commodores at Madison Square Garden in September 1980; it would be one of Marley’s last performances.
On September 21, 1980, Marley would collapse while jogging in Central Park, likely due to malignant melanoma cancer he was diagnosed with three years prior. He would perform one more time, at the Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh, before losing his battle with cancer at age 36.
Natural Mystic, Them Belly Full (But We Hungry), I Shot the Sheriff, Concrete Jungle, Ambush in the Night, Ride Natty Ride, Running Away, Crazy Baldhead, Wake Up and Live, One Drop, No Woman, No Cry, Jamming, So Much Trouble in the World, Zimbabwe, Africa Unite, War, No More Trouble and more, reports NYS Music.
There s was One Love! A Tribute to Bob Marley! celebration of Bob Marley and the 35th anniversary of Bob Marley performing at The Apollo Theatre on April 29th 2015, at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, NY.