This uplifting tune from Bob Marley & The Wailers' ninth studio album, Exodus, is famous for its reassuring refrain, "Don't worry 'bout a thing, 'cause every little thing is gonna be alright" – a message Marley received from the birds that frequented his porch stoop in Kingston, Jamaica. "That really happened," he told Sounds magazine. "That's where I get my inspiration."
Despite the troubles Marley faced in Jamaica – in 1976, he survived a politically motivated assassination attempt connected to his support of Prime Minister Michael Manley – the singer still viewed the island as sacred place. "JA is one of the heaviest places in the West spiritually, regardless of what a go on," he explained.
Marley's friend Tony "Gilly" Gilbert was present when the singer wrote the song and confirmed Marley had several feathered friends. "It was just amazing how he put the words for 'Three Little Birds' together in a flow," Gilbert told Vivien Goldman, author of The Book of Exodus: The Making and Meaning of Bob Marley and the Wailers' Album of the Century. "Bob got inspired by a lot of things around him, he observed life. I remember the three little birds. They were pretty birds, canaries, who would come by the windowsill at Hope Road."
The I Threes, Marley's vocal backing trio, insist the song is actually about them. Group member Marcia Griffiths (who taught us the Electric Slide
) explained: "After the song was written, Bob would always refer to us as the Three Little Birds. After a show, there would be an encore, sometimes people even wanted us to go back onstage four times. Bob would still want to go back and he would say, 'What is my Three Little Birds saying?'"
She continued: "'Three Little Birds' was our song, officially for I-Three. It was more or less expressing how we all came together, when he says, 'Rise up this morning, smile with the rising sun.' We loved it. Even when we were recording it, we knew that it was our song."
Marley's son Ziggy Marley and Sean Paul recorded this for the animated films Shark Tale (2004) and Surf's Up (2007). Several other artists have covered the song, including Robbie Williams, Karen David, Gilberto Gil, Billy Ocean, Monty Alexander, Alvin and the Chipmunks. Britain's Got Talent alumna Connie Talbot recorded a popular version for her 2008 album, Over The Rainbow. The single went to #3 on the UK Independent Singles Chart and #1 on the Billboard Hot Singles Sales Chart in the US.
In 2013, Hyundai used a version remixed by Marley's son Stephen Marley and DJ Jason Bentley (from the Legend: Remixed
album) in its All-New Assurance Connected Care Campaign to reflect the automobile manufacturer's new safety standards. In 2018, the company revisited the tune, this time enlisting Maroon 5 to record it in the Hyundai Santa Fe promotion for the FIFA World Cup. Maroon 5 also released a music video
for their version.
Marley's eldest daughter, Cedella Marley, adapted this into the children's book Every Little Thing in 2012 and, two years later, the off-Broadway musical Bob Marley's Three Little Birds. The story follows a shy little boy who is coaxed by three little birds to go outside and play.
This was used on the TV shows Boston Legal ("Helping Hand," 2006), 90210 ("Another, Another Chance," 2010), Smash ("The Coup," 2012), and The Handmaid's Tale ("Birth Day," 2017).
This was also featured in the movies Club Paradise (1986), Strange Days (1995), In Her Shoes (2005), I Am Legend (2007), Funny People (2009), Ramona and Beezus (2010), and Strange Magic (2015).