Island Records is a major record label that operates as a division of UMG Recordings, Inc. (Universal Music Group). It was founded by Chris Blackwell, Graeme Goodall and Leslie Kong in Jamaica in 1959. Blackwell sold the label to PolyGram in 1989. Both Island and another label recently acquired byPolyGram, A&M Records, were both at the time the largest independent record labels in history, with Island in particular having exerted a major influence on the progressive UK music scene in the early 1970s.
Three Island labels exist in the world: Island UK, Island US, and Island Australia, the main label operating out of London. Notable domestic artists on the UK roster include U2, Mumford & Sons, Amy Winehouse, Ben Howard, Florence + The Machine, John Newman, Hozier, Catfish and the Bottlemen, Disclosure, AlunaGeorge, Keane, James Morrison, Annie Lennox, and PJ Harvey.
Current key people of Island Records include Island president Darcus Beese, OBE and MD Jon Turner. Partially due to the label's significant legacy, Island remains one of UMG's pre-eminent record labels. In a 50-year anniversary documentary, Island Records artist Melissa Etheridge stated: "If you want to look at world music, music of the last fifty years that changed the world, you need look no further than Island Records."
Island Records was founded in Jamaica on 4 July 1959 by Chris Blackwell, Graeme Goodall and Leslie Kong, and partially financed by Stanley Borden from RKO. Its name was inspired by the Harry Belafonte song "Island in the Sun". Blackwell explained in 2009: “I loved music so much, I just wanted to get into it, or be as close to it as I could.”
Tom Hayes, the label's sales manager between 1965 and 1967, referred to the early period of the label in the UK as “organized chaos”. “My Boy Lollipop”, sung by Millie Small, was the label’s first success in the UK and led to a world tour that also involved Blackwell. Blackwell explained in a 50-year-anniversary documentary that he was only interested in building long-term careers at that stage in time, rather than short-term projects. Suzette Newman has been a close colleague of Chris Blackwell’s since working together in the early days of Island Records, and while there she ran the Mango world music label. Suzette Newman and Chris Salewicz were the editors for the book “The Story of Island Records: Keep On Running”.
Blackwell relocated to England in May 1962 to garner greater levels of attention after the local Jamaican sound systems proved to be overwhelmingly successful. The vast majority of the artists who had signed to Blackwell’s fledgling label while he was in Jamaica agreed to allow the musical entrepreneur to release their music in the UK. While in England, Blackwell travelled throughout the city carrying his stock with him and sold to record stores in the city. He did not provide any copies to radio stations, as they would not play any of the Island music; the music was also not reviewed by the press. Meanwhile, Goodall left to start the Doctor Bird record label in 1965.
Blackwell signed the Spencer Davis Group to the label (at that time, many Island releases were being distributed by Philips/Fontana). The group became very popular and Island started their own independent series to spotlight UK rock talent. They signed artists like John Martyn, Fairport Convention, Free, and greatly influenced the growing FM radio market. By the late 1960s and early 1970s, they were a major label in England with artists like Roxy Music, King Crimson, Traffic, The Wailers, and many others. (In the US, many of their releases were issued on A&M prior to Island signing up an unsuccessful distribution deal with Capitol. After that failed, Island was largely an independently distributed label in the US.) Associated Artists