Bob Marley’s London home gets one of few blue plaques for black artists

An English Heritage blue plaque has been unveiled on Bob Marley’s home at Chelsea, where the singer lived in 1977.

Young Benjamin Zephaniah as a schoolboy had sent a letter to Bob Marley saying, “I’m a poet from Birmingham, nobody’s really listening to me in England, what do you think of my poems?”

Incredibly, the reggae star wrote back and told him: “Young man, Britain needs you. Keep doing what you do.”

Marley’s handwritten letter from Jamaica was one reason Zephaniah was where he was, he said on Tuesday, as he unveiled an English Heritage blue plaque on the house in Chelsea where the singer lived.

“That was a real inspiration to me,” said Zephaniah. “It really inspired me to keep doing what I was doing … at the time there was no spoken word poetry, there was no dub poetry so to read those words…”

The plaque is on the front of 42 Oakley Street, a house where Marley lived with his band the Wailers for a short time in the late 70s.

When they were not recording they would make the short trip over the Albert Bridge to play football in Battersea Park.

Zephaniah said he was a fan of Marley when it was not so fashionable. “Certainly the Rastafarian community thought I was a bit soft.

They were listening to Burning Spear and all the heavy stuff, but I liked the songs and poetry of Bob Marley. Take away the music and you get poetry.”

About 12 blue plaques are unveiled in London by English Heritage every year, celebrating figures from history. Seven doors up from Marley is one marking the Antarctic explorer Robert Falcon Scott. Across the road, at number 87, is a plaque for the Irish nationalist poet Jane Wilde, Oscar’s mother.

Other music stars of Marley’s generation with blue plaques include Jimi Hendrix, in Mayfair, John Lennon, in Marylebone, and Freddie Mercury, in Feltham with only 4% of the 900 plus blue plaques across London are dedicated to black and Asian figures from history.

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