Throughout his life, Bob Marley promoted the rights of the poor and oppressed people, social equality, and justice, and that was largely due to his beliefs and spirituality as a Rastafarian. He earned wide acclaim as one of the best musicians of all time thanks to hits like “No Woman, No Cry”, arguably his most successful hit ever. The song, made famous by Bob Marley & the Wailers in 1974, would later be covered by a number of stars including Linkin Park, Nina Simone, The Fugees, and more. The song portrays what life was like for Marley as a teen “in the government yard in Trenchtown”.
Like his other tracks, it is believed that Marley did pen the famous song on his own. However, he gave the songwriter credit to Vincent ‘Tata’ Ford, his friend from Trenchtown who ran a soup kitchen that fed the poor and homeless. Marley grew up with Ford in the Trenchtown area of Kingston. Ford taught Marley the basics of the guitar and the two became close friends. While running a soup kitchen, Ford allowed Marley and his musicians to practice on his premises.
“Vincent Ford is a bredda from Trenchtown,” Marley once said. “Me and him used to sing long time. Me and him used to live in the kitchen together long, long time.”
“No Woman, No Cry” was written at Ford’s flat in 1974, as he and Marley recalled the past and the years they used to play in “the government yard in Trenchtown”. The song would make its way into the Top 10 on the UK charts in 1981 after Bob Marley died. It had before then been featured during a magical concert at the Lyceum, London, which was recorded for release.
Giving writing credit for “No Woman, No Cry” to Ford did help his community as all the royalty checks benefited the soup kitchen and made it possible for it to continue functioning even after Ford died. Ford, before his death, lived in Kingston where he suffered from complications of diabetes, and both his legs were amputated. It is documented that he was credited with three other songs on Bob Marley & the Wailers’ 1976 studio album. Ford is listed as the sole writer for the songs “Positive Vibration” and “Roots, Rock, Reggae”. He shares credit with Rita Marley for the track “Crazy Baldhead”.
Marley, who began recording locally in 1962, did have reasons for attributing writing credits to Ford and other friends and family. According to the Independent: “In 1972, Bob Marley and the Wailers were signed by Chris Blackwell to Island Records, but Marley was concerned about a previous songwriting contract he had signed with the producer Danny Sims at Cayman Music. He did not want his new songs to be associated with Cayman and so, in all probability, he put them in the names of his wife, Rita, the Wailers or other close friends to find a way around tight publishing restrictions.”
Cayman Music in 2014 sued Blue Mountain Music, a company founded by Chris Blackwell. Marley was accused of “fraudulently” attributing songs to other people to evade contractual obligations to Cayman Music. Ford, who never denied writing Marley’s songs, was also sued by Cayman Music producer Danny Sims and Marley’s widow for ownership and royalty rights.
The court would, as reported by UrbanIslandz, side with the Marley estate. It did not, however, “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,” the report added.