Marley wrote the song while touring Haiti after being deeply moved by its poverty and the lives of Haitians, according to his then-girlfriend, Esther Anderson. The song was frequently performed at Marley's concerts, often as the last song. ‘Get Up, Stand Up’ was also the last song Marley ever performed on stage, on 23 September 1980 at the ‘Stanley Theatre’, now the ‘Benedum Center’ in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
The song was re-recorded and re-released by the three major Wailers on their own solo releases, each with varying arrangements and approaches to the third verse, which claims that "Almighty God is a living man". Bob Marley and the Wailers released a Bob Marley only version on ‘Live!’ in 1975. This version was notable for the ‘WO-YO!’ refrain after the third verse. Tosh would include his own solo version on his second album, ‘Equal Rights’ in 1977. Bunny Wailer was the last to release his own version on ‘Protest’. This version featured Tosh due to his involvement in recording the album before his death.
At the start of the New Millennium, and specifically between the years 1999 and 2003, I did a great deal of additional work with 32 schools in Trelawney, Jamaica (the old slave capital of the previous centuries) and 32 schools in West Yorkshire, working to establish a ‘Trans-Atlantic Pen-Pal Project’ which received the direct support and liaison with the Jamaican Minister for Education and Youth Culture and the Custos (Mayor) of Trelawney.
I had two main purposes for my Jamaican projects, which were:
(1) I wanted to help increase the understanding of different cultures and reduce discrimination in schools and society in general between black and white students and citizens. I did this by establishing a ‘Trans-Atlantic Pen-Pal Project’ between 64 schools on opposite sides of the world whereby their monthly letters to each other would be the start of a meaningful communication process.
(2) I also wrote four books, which 100 Yorkshire Schools and the Mirfield Community paid to have thousands of copies shipped across to Jamaica. The books were introduced into the official curriculum of all Trelawney school children. Some books were for their school libraries, whilst the vast majority were sold to the Jamaican communities and raised tens of thousands of £s to replenish and re-stock much-needed school resources such as paper, pencils, books and chairs/benches.
It is hard for British people who have never been to Jamaica or a similar Caribbean cashed-strapped country to appreciate the restrictions their pupils and teachers work under. First, all Jamaican parents have school fees to pay from their small resources. All the schools in Trelawney cut their pencils in half so that they go twice as far, and pupils were given sheets of writing paper which they lined and wrote upon both sides. Then, they wrote between the lines on each side of the page. School textbooks were often outdated and had to be shared between four pupils. The floors of the classrooms were often the bare earth one walked on.
Sadly, my trans-Atlantic work had to be shortened after 2002 when I incurred two heart attacks; one of which left me unconscious and close to death for four days. During two extended visits to Jamaica between 1999 and 2002, the only songs I heard most of the day travelling between schools were Bob Marley songs. One of the most popular songs sung everywhere across Jamaica was ‘Get Up, Stand Up’. This was a protest song for the downtrodden that gave voice to Jamaican frustrations with an often corrupt and repressive system the common man, woman and child lived under.
It is hard for non-Jamaicans who are unfamiliar with the daily conditions that Jamaica and other third-world countries face. It is usual for the Jamaican citizens to have frequent cuts to power supplies across the island. When this occurs (usually on a daily basis) and the island falls into darkness, there is no moaning; they simply light candles and carry on as they did before the electricity supply went down. Many poor people live in make-do tin shacks that protect them during most of the year but during the hurricane season annually are blown down, crushed and destroyed by severe climate forces. When the poor person’s family shack is destroyed, what do they do? Unlike the people of any other western country, they do not moan or fall into depression, they rebuild their humble home and thank God that whilst the latest hurricane may have destroyed homes, roads and vital bridge crossings, it didn’t take their life or destroy them!
Most employment in Jamaica is in or is closely connected to the tourist industry, and those others in work, are employed in governmental positions like police, teachers, nurses, etc. In this high-crime country, teachers are the most respected workers in society and the police are the least trusted and respected of groups.
I love Jamaica and the capacity of all Jamaicans to get on with their lives, whatever hits them unexpectedly. I especially love the one thing that unites all Jamaicans; the love of reggae music and song. Singing has the power to reach those parts that no other commodity has. I dedicate today’s song to my Jamaican friend, Lorna Gregory who lives in London and works in the Care Services.
Love and peace Bill xxx