A Reggae Romp For The Family, With Marley's Music At Heart NPR's Audie Cornish talks to Cedella Marley about her new off-Broadway musical, Three Little Birds. It's adapted from her children's book — which itself was inspired by the song written by her father, the late reggae superstar Bob Marley.
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A Reggae Romp For The Family, With Marley's Music At Heart

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A Reggae Romp For The Family, With Marley's Music At Heart

A Reggae Romp For The Family, With Marley's Music At Heart

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Jamaican superstar Bob Marley once sang about reggae on Broadway.


UNIDENTIFIED CAST MEMBERS: (Singing) Reggae's on Broadway. Reggae's on Broadway. Reggae's on Broadway...

CORNISH: Well, more than four decades later, some of Marley's greatest hits are getting close to the Great White Way. They've been incorporated into an off-Broadway musical for children called "Three Little Birds."


UNIDENTIFIED CAST MEMBERS: (Singing) Rise up this morning, smile at the rising sun. Three little birds pitch by my doorstep singing a sweet song, a melody pure and true, singing this is my message to you...

CORNISH: The musical opens today at New York's New Victory Theater. It's based on a children's book by Marley's daughter Cedella, who's also CEO of her father's record label, Tuff Gong International. I spoke with Cedella Marley yesterday about "Three Little Birds."

CEDELLA MARLEY: The musical tells the story of Ziggy, who is a shy boy who's more than happy to just stay inside and watch television because he's really scared of what happens outside of his door. He has a few friends: Nansi and three little birds, who kind of try to convince him to come out of the house and enjoy Jamaica.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Where's Big Daddy?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) Your father is with your uncle and them boys fishing.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) At the ocean? No. What if there is a storm? You have to go get him...

CORNISH: Cedella, talk a little bit about the role of "Three Little Birds" in your life with your own family 'cause I understand this is a song that you sang with your children.

MARLEY: Yeah, you know, in my family, it's our happy song. It's a song that can wake up the kids in the morning, and it's the same song that can soothe them to bed at night. What really inspired me too, with this song, is - you know, we see a lot of bullying happening now. And I have three sons, and one of them was actually, you know, a victim of bullying.

And this song actually even helped him, you know, because, you know, you come home in the evening and you just had like, the worst day of your life - or you think it was the worst day of your life; and just, you know, singing, don't worry. (Singing) Every little thing's gonna be all right. You know, it helped to raise his spirits.

And, you know, he's off to college. So I must say, I have to give thanks for "Every Little Thing" for even helping us when we were going through that issue with our own children.

CORNISH: It's interesting - using it to essentially, soothe fears.

MARLEY: Yeah, man. And, you know, that's what's cool about Dad's music, and about reggae music. You know, kids love reggae music, you know. The beat is infectious, and Dad's music has the timeless message of - you know, hope and liberation, and love and forgiveness.

So I know he's just smiling, you know, because here we are in New York, waiting for the opening. So happy birthday, Dad. You made it on Broadway. (Laughter)


UNIDENTIFIED CAST MEMBERS: (Singing) One love, one heart, let's get together and feel all right...

CORNISH: You know, you said in the past that your parents were actually pretty strict. I mean, you had a Catholic school upbringing. How was it different from what people perceived?

MARLEY: Oh, I think people think like we lived in this loosey-goosey, marijuana-infused, you know - (Laughter) - I don't know, adobe house or cottage; where it was really, no - you know, we're waking up at 6 o'clock to actually go jogging with our parents, come back and get ready and go to school. The weekends, yeah, we could get away with anything. But from Monday to Friday, it's strictly down to business.

CORNISH: Now, today, you're very much a caretaker of your father's legacy and image. And what are some of the difficulties of that?

MARLEY: So we do a lot of legal work, which is not fun. And then it's even to try and work with these people who have been doing it for years, and just say: You know what? In order to protect our trademark, can you just come and get a license? You know, because you can't fight with everybody. So it makes sense, sometimes, for you to just look at them and say, you know what? I know you've been bootlegging this T-shirt for 20-odd years. Come in, get a license so we can do it properly, so it's at the standards that we want it to be at.

CORNISH: I can imagine that there's a community of people who feel very attached to his image...

MARLEY: Very attached.

CORNISH: ...and feel that they can appropriate it.

MARLEY: Very attached and monetize it, and feel like Bob would want them to do that. (Laughter) You know, you get those hard-core people that say, no, but Bob came to me in a vision and said it was OK. Really? Well, until he gives me that vision, I'm gonna tell you right now, it's not OK, you know. (Laughter) But it's what we were cut out to do, and we will do it because it's just protecting Dad and his legacy.

CORNISH: Before I let you go, I just want to find out your favorite cover of a Bob Marley song - 'cause I can imagine that he is a popular target for covers. And is there one out there that you love?

MARLEY: Oh, man. Annie Lennox did one. If you listen to Annie Lennox's version of "Waiting In Vain," you're gonna fall in love with it.

CORNISH: That's not what I expected you to say. (Laughter)

MARLEY: Yes. I love when Lauryn does it; I love when my brothers do it...

CORNISH: Lauryn Hill.

MARLEY: I love when a lot of people do it. But when Annie Lennox does it, it tugs at my heart. It's like I feel something.


ANNIE LENNOX: (Singing) I don't want to wait in vain for your love...

MARLEY: You know, I feel a little heebie-jeebies.

CORNISH: Cedella Marley, thank you so much for speaking with us, and best of luck with the show.

MARLEY: Thank you.

CORNISH: The musical, Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds," opens today at New York's New Victory Theater.

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