Bob Marley is known worldwide as reggae music’s most renowned ambassador and most instrumental pioneer. Something that is talked about much less is his philanthropy and the icon’s selfless desire to be a pillar to his community. Many fortunate people in this world give back when they have a surplus, but Bob Marley allocated his very own earnings to help those close to him even before the money was made.
Perhaps he knew that his mortality was feeble in the face of his music that would live on forever, or he just saw the immediate need to contribute greatly to his neighborhood of Trench Town, which he so often waxed emotionally. In 1974, Bob Marley released what would indefinitely become one of the biggest songs in the world, “No Woman No Cry.” The song appeared on his Live! album the following year and completely took off, later garnering covers from a number of stars including Linkin Park, Nina Simone, The Fugees, and more.
Though it is believed Marley would have penned the famous track on his own, like a number of his other tracks, he gave the songwriter credit to Vincent ‘Tata’ Ford, his friend and a community servant. Ford suffered from diabetes for most of his life, and he was wheelchair-bound after both of his legs had been amputated from the complications. As Trench Town-native like Marley, Vincent Ford ran a soup kitchen in the embattled community that fed the poor and homeless.
Marley’s decision to attribute writing credits to V. Ford would serve the community as a whole because it meant all the royalty checks would benefit the soup kitchen and ensure that it ran smoothly even long after both Marley and Ford were gone. The revenue from this and other songs such as “Positive Vibration” from Marley’s Rastaman Vibration album ensured that Ford could continue running the soup kitchen in Trench Town up until his demise in December 2008.
It was argued that at the time, “No Woman No Cry” and a dozen other of Marley’s songs that were written between 1973 and 1976 were “misattributed” to the credited composers in an attempt to evade contractual obligations to Cayman Music which represented Marley from 1967 to 1976.
The case was brought before the High Court in 2014 when Cayman Music sued Blue Mountain Music, a company founded by Chris Blackwell who launched Marley’s international career. Marley was accused of “fraudulently” attributing the songs to other people to avoid the terms of their ’73 contractual restrictions.
An obituary for Vincent Ford by The Independent in 2009 noted that “Marley was concerned about a previous songwriting contract he had signed with the producer Danny Sims at Cayman Music. In that bout, he also credited his songs to his wife Rita Marley and his band The Wailers. The writer concluded that “This spreading out of writing credits would also have allowed Marley to provide lasting help to family and close friends.”
Vincent Ford never denied writing the song, which was composed at his home in 1974, according to Bob Marley. The late icon noted that “Vincent Ford is a bredda from Trenchtown,” he once said. “Me and him used to sing long time. Me and him used to live in the kitchen together long, long time.”
Still, it was disputed that Ford never actually composed “No Woman No Cry” and Danny Sims and Marley’s widow came together and sued him for ownership and royalty rights. Hugo Cuggigan of Cayman Music classified “No Woman No Cry” as Bob Marley’s most famous track and the “jewel in the Marley catalog” and argued that they were denied their “contracted entitlement for over 40 years.” The court reportedly sided with the Marley estate, but it did not undo all the years of sustenance for the Trench Town soup kitchen and the people of the community, thanks to Bob Marley’s selfless act.
“No Woman No Cry” cracked its way into the Top 10 on the UK charts in 1981 after Bob Marley died. The track is also ranked at No. 37 on Rolling Stone’s list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. The song that was undoubtedly his most revered fed infinite members of his community for many years, and it is said that the soup kitchen is still thriving to this day.