Marcia was born Linneth Marcia Griffiths in 1949 in Kingston, Jamaica. Her father, Joseph Griffiths, was a cabinetmaker and her mother, Beatrice, looked after the family of four (Marcia has two sisters and one brother but her brother is now sadly deceased). She feels that her close and loving family has always been the basis of her personal and professional success. Her father sang, but not professionally, and he was a skilled and accomplished craftsman. Marcia still has some of his furniture in her home that she would never part with.
"I grew up in a very humble and very Christian like family… love was all we had… That togetherness, that family bond."
As a young girl, Marcia sang in her church choir and would entertain her neighbours by singing and reciting passages from the Bible. One of her neighbours was the girlfriend of Phillip James of the Blues Busters the groundbreaking vocal duo who were the singing sensations of the early sixties with songs such as 'Wide Awake In A Dream', 'Behold' and 'Wings Of A Dove'. In the spring of 1964, Phillip heard Marcia singing and was so impressed that he introduced her to bandleader Byron Lee who immediately agreed with the Blues Buster's opinion of Marcia. The pair decided to put her on the bill of their next concert and very soon after Marcia made her professional debut on Easter Monday morning in Byron Lee's Easter Stage Show at the Carib Theatre, Kingston, singing Carla Thomas' 'No Time To Lose'. Later that same night she appeared on television "doing two of Nancy Wilson's songs". Marcia recalled that she had not yet developed her own style:
"We try to sound exactly like them. It's not until maybe after a couple of years you develop your own sound."
Her first appearances were so inspired that a race soon commenced to sign Marcia, with both Byron Lee's manager, Ronnie Nasralla, and Clement 'Coxsone' Dodd from Studio One competing for her father's signature on a recording contract. Ronnie Nasralla wanted to manage Marcia and for her to sing with Byron Lee's Dragonaires, but Joseph Griffiths already knew Coxsone's Down Beat Sound System and when Coxsone approached him, he decided that young Marcia would go to Studio One on Brentford Road. Marcia was still only fifteen and she was chaperoned at all her recording sessions and stage shows by either her father or her mother:
"If I am performing anywhere in Jamaica my father was there because I was under age and I'm going to school and everything so he was everywhere."
It was not long before her parents were not alone in looking after Marcia's welfare. Bob Andy, who had already established himself as one of Studio One's top singers and songwriters, kept a very close guard on her too. As she was growing up, Marcia remembered watching Bob rehearse in their neighbourhood with the original Paragons and their relationship blossomed as they worked together at Studio One. Marcia counts herself as truly blessed to have met with someone with Bob's depth of experience at this early stage in her career. The male dominated music business can be a frightening place for a young woman, but Bob was always there to look after her.
"God just put him there to just make sure I was guided and protected as a young girl."
Coxsone had originally tried to steer Marcia towards emotional ballads and matched her in duets with Tony Gregory and, most memorably, with Bob Marley on the beautiful 'Oh My Darling' but Marcia's first recordings unfortunately failed to dent the hit parade. It would be three years before she enjoyed her first hit and, in the cut and thrust world of Jamaican music, this should tell all you need to know about Coxsone's faith and trust in Marcia Griffiths. This was rewarded when the Rocksteady-into-Reggae 'Feel Like Jumping' became her first hit record in 1968. The popularity of this release has never faded, and she followed it up with the sublime 'Truly', 'Tell Me Now', 'Melody Life' and, in a return to those early days, a fabulous upbeat duet with Bob Andy, 'Always Together'. Marcia, like so many other Jamaican stars, sees her time at Studio One as her musical education and she has nothing but praise for Mr. Dodd and the time she spent at Brentford Road.
"…Because any great singer that you can think of that came out of Jamaica they all pass through Studio One… I thought about it and I believe that it's the honesty and the sincerity and the innocence that all these musics was done with. It's very pure. We were all so innocent. We just sung our hearts out…"
Marcia not only sung her heart out in the studio, but also gained valuable experience performing at stage shows in Kingston where she would be the opening act for visiting artists from the U.S.A.
"At that time in Jamaica it was just myself and Hortense Ellis. The only two female singers who were active in Jamaica… So I was fortunate enough to share the stage with quite a few of those performers. One of the first persons that came down there at that stage of my career was Carla Thomas herself and then Betty Wright came, Ben E. King, quite a few of them. Within the year we would have had about four or five different singers from the United States on big stage shows."
Marcia stayed at Studio One but "as time moved on we wanted to find some greener grass" and she was approached by record producer Harry Johnson (known as Harry J) who had recently hit with the Beltones' 'No More Heartaches'. Together with Bob Andy they recorded a version of Nina Simone's anthemic 'Young Gifted & Black'. "He actually came to Studio One and talked to myself and Bob Andy and we went to the studio and that's when we recorded 'Young Gifted & Black'". The Jamaican release was a moderate hit, but Trojan then licensed it for the U.K. where Johnny Arthey added a captivating string arrangement. In March 1970 this new version reached Number 5 in the U.K. National Charts and Bob and Marcia flew to the U.K. to promote the record. They subsequently toured Europe and Marcia recorded two songs, 'Stay Right Here' and 'Everything Is Beautiful', in both English and German that were released by Phillips in Germany. Bob & Marcia followed up their breakthrough hit with 'Pied Piper', which reached Number 11 in the U.K. charts in the summer of the following year and led to the duo being signed to C.B.S. Unfortunately at that time no major record company had a great deal of experience or knowledge in managing and promoting Reggae artists and Reggae music and the duo's association with C.B.S. did not last very long. Marcia and Bob returned to Jamaica.
Marcia soon found herself back in the Kingston studios where she recorded her debut solo album for the legendary, but still criminally underrated, Lloyd 'Charmers' Tyrell. 'Play Me…Sweet And Nice' was released in Jamaica on Federal and in the U.K by Trojan, who re-titled the collection 'Sweet Bitter Love' and augmented the track-listing with a second version of 'Play Me', featuring the producer on harmonies. By this time, Marcia had also returned to the stage and asked her fellow female vocalists, Rita Marley and Judy Mowatt, to sing harmonies for her at a stage show in New Kingston during the summer of 1974. Bob Marley was so taken with the trio that he asked them to sing harmonies with him as part of the Wailers, following the departure of Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh from the group's line-up. And so Marcia, Rita & Judy became the I Threes. Bunny also enlisted the I Threes to sing harmonies on some of his early Solomonic releases, such as the immortal 'Searching For Love'.
Marcia sung as one of Bob Marley's I Threes from 1974 to 1980, only ever missing out a tour because she was pregnant, and the trio's contribution to the sound of Bob Marley & the Wailers during that period is immeasurable. To this day Marcia says that not a day goes by when she does not think about Bob, Rita and Judy. As well as working with Bob Marley and bringing up her three sons, ET Junior, Yohance and Marcus, she also found the time to record two solo albums for Sonia Pottinger's High Note label, 'Naturally' and 'Steppin'', both of which have established themselves as classics of the genre.
"I decided to try a woman after all, because maybe she would have more compassion and she would understand another woman's feelings. So I decided to give it a try and it worked wonderful."
In 1981 she recorded an entire album's worth of material for Bunny Wailer's Solomonic label, but only a handful, including the twelve-inch 'Tribulation' and 'Woman A Come', were released as singles.
"So when Bunny and myself got together to do this album I really enjoyed it 'cause the songs that he wrote were songs that I enjoyed doing because they were truth and reality. The album that we did is still on tape…"
Don Drummond's tragic partner, Magureita, recorded the original version of 'Woman Come' for Treasure Isle and Marcia remembered seeing the singularly striking singer while she was working at Studio One:
"I first saw Maguerita in 1965. I have never seen a woman more beautiful in my life than that woman."
Coming from a woman as beautiful as Marcia Griffiths this is praise indeed. Another recording from the Solomonic sessions, 'Electric Boogie', was released in Jamaica on a seven-inch single in 1982 and it reached the Number One position that Christmas. The song's reputation continued to grow until eventually a dance was set to the song in Washington D.C. and it become a massive hit in the U.S.A., seven years after its original release. It is still a dance floor favourite whenever and wherever it gets played, for, as Marcia said, "nothing cannot stop that song."
In an inspired move in 1986, she teamed up with Donovan Germain's Penthouse Records. Germain, a keen student of Jamaican musical history, had contacted Sly Dunbar with a view to recording Marcia and was delighted to discover that she was keen to work: "Okay. Let's give it a try" and Germain not only recorded her in a solo capacity, but also teamed her up in a combination style with deejays of the moment, including Tony Rebel, Buju Banton and Cutty Ranks. The pair have continued to work together since and Marcia described Germain as the "most honest person in the business I have met."
Marcia continues to record and tour as a solo artist, as part of the Wailers Band and occasionally on Revival Shows with Bob Andy, and in 1992 she was presented with the JAMI Award at the Ward Theatre, Kingston for Best Female Vocalist. In 1993 she was awarded the Jamaican Order Of Distinction in recognition for her services to music. Her progression from Studio One child star to matriarch of Jamaican female vocalists, as a solo singer, as half of Bob & Marcia and as a member of The I-Threes has been inspirational throughout her career, and her reputation rests on her matchless achievements.
"When I was going to school I always sing 'Music Alone Shall Live."
And the music of Marcia Griffiths will live as long as music is listened to…