Meaning of Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds"

by Noel Shankel
Listen to

Listen to "Three Little Birds" and try to decipher the meaning yourself.

Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images

"Three Little Birds" was first released on an album entitled "Exodus" in 1977 by Bob Marley and the Wailers, before being released as a single in 1980. Since its release, a dispute has carried on about the meaning of the song, and in particular the meaning of the three little birds. As of 2011, no one knows for sure what the three little birds refer to, but theories have been developed.

The Canaries

Although the true meaning of Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds" is still disputed, Tony Gilbert -- Marley's long time friend and personal chef -- claims the inspiration of the song came from three canaries. According to Gilbert, three canaries would perch themselves on Marley's windowsill in Hope Road, Kingston, Jamaica. It is unclear if the canaries would come by often, or just happened to stop by once. The lyrics to the song state: "Rise up this mornin'/Smiled with the risin' sun/Three little birds/Pitch by my doorstep," which would add credibility to Gilbert's story.

The I Threes

Bob Marley and the Wailers used backup singers -- known as the I Threes -- who claim the inspiration for the song was based off them. Marcia Griffiths -- one of the backup singers for the Wailers -- confirms this rumor. She was quoted in The Sunday Guardian as saying, "After a show, there would be an encore, and sometimes people would want us to go back onstage for the fourth time. Bob would still want to go back, and would ask, "What are my three little birds saying?" However, Marley didn't refer to the I Threes as his "little birds" until after the song was written.

Feel Good Song

Regardless of inspiration, "Three Little Birds" has become known as an inspirational song, with upbeat, positive lyrics running throughout. Within the song, the little birds send a message to Marley which states "Don't worry 'bout a thing/'Cause every little thing gonna be all right." By the end of the song, Marley responds with "I won't worry." The chorus -- which features the birds' message to Marley -- is repeated four times throughout the song. So, either Marley was inspired by three chirping canaries or by his backup singers, but either way the song sends a positive message.

The Dispute Continues

Numerous websites and forums are dedicated to figuring out the meaning behind the lyrics of "Three Little Birds." One such website is Songmeanings.net, which allows you to create an account and weigh in with your own personal interpretation of the song. Since Bob Marley has died, the true meaning of the lyrics may never be known. However, the song itself carries on for generations to consume, all of which will add their own personal meaning to it.

Photo Credits

  • Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images