After 43 years of singing sweet, sweet songs, the empress of reggae has officially received her crown. VP Records is set to release Melody Life, the first Marcia Griffiths anthology, covering her musical career from its beginnings at Studio One, her 10 years as part of Bob Marley’s legendary I-Threes, and her continually evolving solo work. Aside from her obvious musical talents, Griffiths’ grace and sincerity is what surely got her noticed in 1964 when she walked down to Kingston’s Studio One at age 12 with a pure voice and open heart—and from that time on, she’s been a positive inspiration not only for reggae music, but for women in particular.
“One of my greatest achievements, that no money in the world can buy, is knowing that all these young, up-and-coming singers acknowledge the fact that I have been their inspiration, their motivation and a role model,” says Griffiths, with a sweet humility. “It is so good to know that the work I’ve been doing over the years was never in vain.” And although Griffiths is happy to see that the once male-dominated reggae world is changing (according to her it is now 50/50—it’s just that the female vocalists are not as popular), it wasn’t always that way. When asked about her early reggae influences, she hesitates and admits that there really weren’t any other female reggae vocalists around. “At that time it was a male-dominated business,” Griffiths says. “It was really only me and Hortense Ellis (Alton Ellis’ younger sister) and we worked together with Byron Lee. Hortense had a real husky voice, which I liked, but I don’t know if I had any other female reggae influences.”
Instead, Griffiths attributes her musical inspiration to the Queen Of Soul, Aretha Franklin, saying that she always admired the enigmatic diva, as well as Dionne Warwick and Nancy Wilson. “In those days we used to look forward to the R&B music from the U.S. Mr. Dodd [Studio One’s Sir Coxsone Dodd] used to go to America and bring back lots of LPs of different singers. He used to give Bob Marley, Ken Boothe and Delroy Wilson a lot of Curtis Mayfield to listen to, and he would give me most of the female artists, and we would do cover songs of them.”
The empress proved herself in the studio after recording “Melody Life” and “I Feel Like Jumping,” which attracted the attention of Studio One superstar Bob Andy. Shortly thereafter, Bob and Marcia teamed up and began recording cover songs—they also did originals, but it was the duet’s debut recording of “Young, Gifted And Black” that got them on the charts. After a few more successes, she split with Andy to pursue her solo career with High Note producer Sonia Pottinger, a decision that changed her life forever. After a few solo hits, Griffiths found herself in the company of friend and soon-to-be-stagemate Rita Marley. Griffiths, along with Marley and Judy Mowat, formed Bob Marley’s I-Threes, reggae’s most powerful backing trio, which helped uplift listeners captivated by Bob’s Godly vibration.
“I can attribute most of what is happening now in my professional life to Bob,” Griffiths says. “It was not until I started working with Bob that I really came to the realization that the music was much deeper than just fun and entertainment. Bob taught me that music is the greatest weapon and that it can only do positive things because music is pure.”
Music’s purity is a central theme when talking to the empress and it is truly evident throughout Melody Life. The two-disc set features early works like “Oh My Darling” featuring Bob Marley, “Truly” and “Always Together” featuring Bob Andy, as well as “Lonesome Feeling,” “Peaceful Woman” and “Live On” featuring Beres Hammond. The collection also includes her original version of “Electric Boogie,” written by Bunny Wailer, which unfortunately helped create the Electric Slide. Although none of the tunes were re-recorded, the compilation features 30 of Griffiths’ favorite songs.
Fans can still c