Can you imagine a Bob Marley and the Wailers without an I-Three? Of course, we got a taste of it with Catch A Fire, however, that was a much different Wailers than the one that toured the world with great fanfare, playing to crowds that numbered in the hundreds of thousands on their 1980 tour.
It was a 19 year old songstress signed to Studio One by Clement “Coxsone” Dodd that was partially responsible for giving us those “three little birds” that we have come to love so much. Norma Fraser was a constant presence at the legendary Studio One where The Wailers cut many records for Sir Coxsone. She recorded a hit song with Lord Creator of Trinidad called “We’ll Be Lovers,” which charted at number one in Jamaica for more than a year. In 1967 she released her second hit song, “First Cut is the Deepest.”
She soon befriends The Wailers and a young Rita Marley, even singing backing vocals and harmonies on some tracks. She also backed artists like Ken Boothe, The Skatalites, Delroy Wilson and other legendary reggae performers. Fraser was one of Coxsone’s earliest successes, which is why Rita Marley cornered her in the studio one day and asked Fraser to teach her how to sing.
Says Fraser in a recent interview with Eugene, Oregon-based journalist Vanessa Salvia:
“Rita was not a singer but would show up at the studio grounds often,” Fraser said. “She asked me to teach her how to sing and I did. She then latched on to Bob Marley and would do some backup oooh’s behind them.”
Rita would go on to co-found the I-Three, marry Bob Marley, and give birth to a new generation of reggae superstars. Rita still refers to Fraser as “The Legend” even today.
Fraser remembers the young Bob Marley as a serious person
“Bob would ponder deeply about the plight of the human condition in Jamaica and worldwide,” remembered Fraser. “His worldview at that time was vast and he had not yet traveled out of Jamaica. He wanted to help change things.”
As her career took off in earnest during the early 1970′s, it was Bob Marley who called upon her at her parent’s house in Jamaica to join the group as a backing singer. She declined. According to Fraser, she was becoming more and more disillusioned with the Jamaican recording business and the prospect of becoming such a big star on a little island. She actually left the music business for nearly 25 years before returning to it.
She now lives in Eugene, Oregon and performs with her band. She is backed on occasion by the legendary Skatalites.