Only someone with Chris Blackwell's unique background could have founded a company as innovative as Island
Records. Although it took several years before Island made the charts, yet in time it became the finest small record
company in the world, with an artist roster the envy of every major record company. Now, after nearly 40 years in the
entertainment business, Blackwell has created Palm Pictures as an entertainment company with a particular focus on
DVD, a format that perfectly incorporates his passion for music and film.
Born just prior to World War II in London, Blackwell's father was Irish while his mother came from a prominent
Jamaican family of successful traders in rum, sugar, coconuts and cattle. He spent the first 10 years of his life on the
island, finished his education in England and returned to Jamaica in 1955.
His first job was as aide-de-camp to the Governor of Jamaica, followed by a stint selling real estate. But it was the six
months Blackwell spent in America in 1959, hanging out in the New York jazz circuit, which led him to a life in music.
In America, he became friendly with Miles Davis and subsequently fell in love with jazz. When he returned to Jamaica,
he heard an ensemble led by blind pianist Lance Hayward at the Half Moon Hotel in Montego Bay. This inspired
Blackwell to record their music and form his own label. Borrowing the name from Alec Waugh's novel, Island in the
Sun, Blackwell created Island Records and released the label's first album, Lance Hayward at the Half Moon, in 1959.
Island Records opened an office in Kingston, Jamaica in 1960 and its first hit single was “Little Sheila,” by Laurel
Aiken, which went to number one in Jamaica along with his second recording, “Your Eyes Are Dreaming,” by Wilfred
“Jackie” Edwards. As business grew, Blackwell was selling more records in England than in Jamaica and he moved
Island's headquarters to London in 1962.
Blackwell's thinking proved correct. From 1962 to the mid-Sixties, Island concentrated on Ska, the new hot Jamaican
beat that struck a resonance with the burgeoning Mod teen style. He released records produced by the great Jamaican
producers of the time: Duke Reid, Leslie Kong, Sir Coxone, amongst others. On the dance floors throughout the
UK, Island garnered an enviable reputation.
Soon after, Blackwell brought over to England a 15-year-old Jamaican girl called Millie, and produced her single, “My
Boy Lollipop.” He knew it would be a smash but he felt Island could not handle a major hit—one that would reach
beyond the specialty market he had created and dominated in England. He decided to license the single to Fontana, a
Philips label. The single sold six million copies worldwide; Blackwell was catapulted into the pop music business in a
After accompanying Millie to a TV show in Birmingham, England, he went to a club where he first heard The Spencer
Davis Group, led by fifteen-year-old singer Steve Winwood. Blackwell signed them immediately, also licensing them to
Fontana to assure they would get the mainstream pop exposure beyond the scope of the young Island company. His
faith was affirmed when they had their first English Top 5 record with Keep On Running, written by the same
Jamaican singer/songwriter Wilfred “Jackie” Edwards, whom he brought to England.
At the same time, Island released its first top ten hit, “Shotgun Wedding,” by Roy C. The Spencer Davis Group then
had two international hits with “Gimme Some Lovin'” and “I'm A Man.” When the group broke up, Winwood formed
Traffic, which Chris felt Island was now ready to handle on its own. Traffic was Island's initial entry into rock and set
the company on a successful course of diversity and high quality.
By the end of the Sixties, Island had developed from a small specialist label to become not only the foremost innovative
independent company in the UK, but a world-renowned label. By that time, pop had developed into rock during a
period when music had become an integral part of lifestyle, not merely a form of entertainment. Island caught the
changing mood better than any other company. As the first to realize that the album had replaced singles as the
primary vehicle, Island gave its artists unprecedented creative freedom to develop their music. The company also paid
meticulous attention to design, transforming the traditional notions of packaging and style.
Besides Traffic, some of the seminal names to join the Island roster were Free, Jimmy Cliff, Toots and the Maytals,
Spooky Tooth, Mott The Hoople, John Martyn, Jethro Tull, Cat Stevens, King Crimson, and Robert Palmer.
Island made a deal with Joe Boyd that incorporated into the company the best in English folk rock music – Sandy
Denny, Richard Thompson, Nick Drake and The Incredible String Band. The success rate was phenomenal and
every major corporation was forced to launch labels in emulation of Island. Imitation may have been the sincerest form
of flattery, but the original was still the hippest, most creative label in the world. The signing of Jethro Tull developed
into the creation of Chrysalis Records, which was an Island label for its first twelve years.
That reputation continued apace in the Seventies, with the signing of Robert Palmer and the launch of Richard
Branson’s Virgin Records. New additions included Roxy Music and, in 1973, Bob Marley & the Wailers–two bands
that revolutionized the record business. Roxy Music brought a new dimension to British pop music, the consequences
of which are still felt today. Bob Marley & the Wailers brought reggae into the music mainstream. Their album,
Exodus, which was co-produced by Blackwell, was named by Time as “the album of the century.”
Looking to expand his horizons, Blackwell backed his first film project in 1971: the cult hit, The Harder They Come,
directed by Perry Henzell and starring Jimmy Cliff. The success of The Harder They Come and the genius of Bob
Marley led to the emergence of reggae on the international scene. Blackwell then signed Burning Spear, Third World,
and Black Uhuru. In the following four years, Marley became one of the most charismatic and challenging artists of
our time, a person whose impact lay far beyond the confines of popular music.
In 1977, Steve Winwood also began his long anticipated solo career, which confirmed his place in the firmament of
world superstars; his 1986 album, Back In The High Life, was a global smash, reaching number one in America. It
was a success emulated by Robert Palmer, whose long Island career culminated in Addicted To Love, a U.S. number
one single in 1986.
Island also signed a model named Grace Jones and, through a combination of extraordinary music talents and stunning
visuals, she virtually defined the new dance directions of the early Eighties. Among her most important musical
collaborators were Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, the famed Jamaican riddim twins who were also responsible
for Black Uhuru's heavy reggae beats.
Island retained its ability to innovate. The company has never simply followed the trend. Its rich roster of the Eighties,
for instance, could have never developed on any other label. At the start of the decade, Island signed a young Irish
band rejected by every major label in Britain. The group was called U2 and, in typical Island fashion, they were given
time and space to grow. By 1987, and the release of The Joshua Tree album, U2 was the best band in the world, a
status it has retained into the next millennium. Also, one of the key artists to sign with Chris at this time was Tom
Waits. Waits released seven albums with Island from 1983-1993. His first recording was the illustrious
Swordfishtrombones, followed by Rain Dogs, one of the most critically-acclaimed records of all time–Rolling Stone
named it one of the 25 best albums in rock‘n’roll history. His 1993 recording, Bone Machine, won a Grammy award
for “Best Alternative Album.”
Throughout this entire period Island redefined the contemporary notions of hip. It licensed the small New York label,
Ze, formed by Michael Zilkha, which was initially known only for the bizarre and weird. Given time to properly
develop, Ze eventually provided some of the early Eighties' biggest hits with Kid Creole & the Coconuts.
Blackwell didn't turn away from Jamaican film production after his initial foray with The Harder They Come. In 1981
he produced Countryman, which brought in the largest box office receipts in Jamaica at that time.
Island also championed producer Trevor Horn, who was encouraged by Blackwell to form a label. In 1983, ZTT was
launched and, the following year, it was number one in Britain for 15 weeks with the monster hit, Frankie Goes To
Hollywood. That same year, 1984, Bob Marley & the Wailers' greatest hits album, Legend, was released and remained
at number one for 13 straight weeks in the UK and is still in the Billboard Top 5 catalog charts in the US after almost 15
years. Legend continues to be one of the label's best sellers.
In the early Eighties, world music was championed by Blackwell on the Mango label and fronted by King Sunny Ade,
the Nigerian artist whose success signaled the initial Western interest in African pop. The label's rich diversity of talent
included flagship Grammy nominated artists Salif Keita, Baaba Maal and Angelique Kidjo.
In 1983, Blackwell formed the film production and distribution company, Island Alive with Carolyn Pfeiffer and Shep
Gordon and released Kiss of the Spiderwoman, which garnered William Hurt with the Best Actor Oscar, and The Trip
to Bountiful, for which Geraldine Page won the Best Actress Oscar. Island's Mona Lisa and Dark Eyes also garnered
Best Actor nominations for Bob Hoskins and Marcello Mastroianni, respectively. Other Island-produced films in the
1980's were Jimmy Reardon (starring River Phoenix), Choose Me, and Return Engagement (featuring Timothy Leary
and Gordon Liddy).
In 1989, Island was bought by the conglomerate PolyGram. Blackwell stayed on to supervise the Island companies.
The early Nineties also saw the creation of Island Outpost. The debut of the renowned Marlin Hotel in Miami's
South Beach in November 1991 has been credited for launching the renaissance of the area. Blackwell's vision of
opening unique hotels and resorts in exquisite locations has expanded to include four Island Outpost resorts in the
Caribbean and a villa in Utah. He has developed these properties in the same way as he has developed talent for the
past three decades: choosing them by instinct and nurturing each to perfection.
What makes the Island Outpost collection so unique is Blackwell's ability to infuse each property with local traditions
and culture, and to make the guest experience much like a stay in a friend's home, in keeping with the strong Caribbean
sense of family.
The Island Outpost hotels include Pink Sands on Harbour Island. In Blackwell's native Jamaica, Strawberry Hill,
nestled in the Blue Mountains above Kingston opened in November 1994; The Caves, an exceptional property on the
cliffs in Negril, in 1997; Goldeneye, the house built by Ian Fleming where he wrote all of the James Bond books
opened in 1998. Island Outpost also manages Jake's, a funky beachside cluster of cottages in Treasure Beach.
Additionally, Island Outpost offers Cuckoo’s Nest, a 5-bedroom villa located in an exclusive private community in the
mountains above Provo, Utah.
During the early Nineties, Melissa Etheridge evolved into a major superstar, an artist Blackwell signed to Island
Records in 1985. Etheridge’s miles of roadwork and countless live appearances resulted in Grammy Awards and six
In 1993 Island released the debut album by Ireland's The Cranberries. Entitled Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why
Can't We?, the album became the biggest selling debut in Irish history and catapulted the four young musicians into
instant superstardom. To date, the band’s three albums have sold well over 25 million albums worldwide.
In 1995, Blackwell formed Island Black Music, a music division created to sign and promote the best in R&B, soul,
gospel and hip hop under the direction of Hiriam Hicks. The label re-energized the lengthy career of the legendary
Isley Brothers, whose Island Black Music debut sold over 1,000,000 copies and introduced Dru Hill and Kelly Price
and from which has emerged the newest superstar, Sisqo.
In November 1997, Blackwell parted ways with PolyGram and also left the board of management of PolyGram NV.
In 1998, Chris Blackwell founded Palm Pictures. With Palm, Blackwell returns to his roots in the entertainment world.
Palm Pictures, an audio/visual entertainment company, is actively involved in the acquisition, production and
distribution of innovative music and independent film projects, with a particular focus on the DVD format. Blackwell
moves towards the future with Palm Pictures, developing music and film releases utilizing the latest in technology. .
Palm Pictures is an independent media company that produces, acquires and distributes innovative music and film
projects. Palm has distinguished itself as a leader in the converging music, digital media, theatrical and home video
markets, emphasizing a compelling slate of music documentaries, arthouse and foreign cinema, as well as original
audio/visual projects. The company’s expertise includes national theatrical exhibition and DVD production, resulting in
a seamless transition into the home video market. Palm Pictures' entertainment properties include film and music
divisions, Arthouse Films, sputnik7.com, epitonic.com and RES Media Group.
Since its inception in 1998, Palm Pictures has been responsible for such critical and commercial successes as THE
BASKETBALL DIARIES, SEX AND LUCIA, THE BELIEVER and THE DIRECTORS LABEL SERIES, a
retrospective of the work of the world’s most acclaimed music video directors. The first three installments of the series
featured the works of directors Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry and Chris Cunningham. Seminal music DVD releases
include the award-winning hip hop documentary, SCRATCH, the Grammy-nominated Bob Marley documentary,
REBEL MUSIC, and the Talking Heads’ groundbreaking concert film, STOP MAKING SENSE. Recent theatrical film
releases include GUNNER PALACE, a powerful documentary about the Iraq War; Ondi Timoner’s DIG!, the 2004
Sundance Grand Jury Prize Winner for Best Documentary, and the Cannes Film Festival Camera D’Or Prize Winner
for 2003, RECONSTRUCTION. Upcoming theatrical releases include CRONICAS, starring John Leguizamo, written
and directed by Sebastian Cordero and produced by Alfonso Cuarón and Jorge Vergara; BE HERE TO LOVE ME: A
FILM ABOUT TOWNES VAN ZANDT directed by Margaret Brown and Olivier Assayas' CLEAN starring Maggie
Cheung and Nick Nolte.
Palm is also home to a diverse music catalogue, spanning genres from world to trip hop to indie rock to electronica.
Palm’s world releases include African musicians Baaba Maal and Gigi, reggae artists such as Black Uhuru and Sly &
Robbie and Latin American artists like Da Lata and Sidestepper. Up-an-coming indie rockers Earlimart and Moving
Units have firmly established Palm on the underground rock circuit, and standouts like Zero 7 and Koop showcase the
best in chilled electronica.
Palm Media fulfills its mission to entertain, educate, and inspire its trendsetting audience with a multitude of media.
The Company seeks out and showcases the world’s most innovative and creative storytellers through its bi-monthly
lifestyle magazine RES, its international touring digital film festival RESFEST and an extensive online network that
includes the award winning Web sites res.com, epitomic.com and sputnik7.com.
Designed to support and inspire emerging talent, the festival kicks off each fall in the United States, and then journeys
worldwide to over a two dozen cities across the continents, building a global network of creators and audiences. The
festival has supported breaking new talent, hosted visionary filmmakers, and pushed boundaries to rethink the visual
language of cinema.
Since its founding in 1996, RESFEST has been both an artistic and technological pioneer. RESFEST was the world’s
first global event to champion desktop tools designed to empower the independent creator. Since then the festival has
evolved in response to the convergence of film, music, design, fashion and art.
RES is a bi-monthly magazine chronicling the best in cutting edge film, music, art design and culture in a fully-
integrated, multi-platform format that brings together a dynamic Web site, email newsletters and a print magazine that
includes a full-length music and film DVD with every issue. RES leads the way in uniting art, technology and everyday
life while speaking to and for a new generation savvy to our increasing digital lifestyle.
Some of Blackwell’s other affiliates include Blue Mountain Music, the music publishing company home to Bob Marley,
U2 (UK), Julie Fordam, James, Cousteau, and others; and a recording studio located at Compass Point in Nassau,
Blackwell is the co-founder of the annual Goldeneye Film Festival in with its next festival scheduled for December 7-
12, 2005. “The event will feature a conference, retreat, film festival, live music and tours to key spots. In short, it’s your
quickest way to experience the best of Jamaica and the Caribbean.” The program showcases over 350 reels including
feature films, documentaries, and shorts from around the globe. The films run mainly in DVD format, projected onto
screens around James Bond’s birthplace.
Blackwell is currently expanding his Island Outpost resorts by the addition of residential villas at his existing properties
namely Goldeneye and the Caves.
Blackwell was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March 2001.
Blackwell received the Order of Jamaica award in October 2004 for his contribution to art and entertainment in
Chris Blackwell’s Palm Pictures has teamed with Universal Music Enterprises (UM e ) to develop and market Palm World
Voices, a series of CD & DVD packages exploring contemporary music, culture and artists from regions around the
Palm World Voices is the most prestigious World Music series ever created. Each release will feature an essay booklet
filled with history and information on each region penned by acclaimed British journalist Robin Denselow that describe
music styles, instruments, traditions, religion, influences and industry. The booklet also features exclusive photos from
The National Geographic Society and celebrated British photographer Adrian Boot. Additionally, the volumes will
include specially designed maps of each area created by The National Geographic Society to enhance the visual
knowledge of the region, as well as a DVD with 60 minutes of music and beautiful contextual footage from the Palm
Pictures and Oxfam archives.