Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records, creator of resort company Island Outpost, and the creative vision behind an esoteric but culture-changing range of musical, film and resort projects, started out on a very different path from that which led to the empire he ultimately created. Born in London in 1937, he spent the majority of his childhood in Jamaica, finished his education in England, and returned to take what he thought would be the reins of his family’s company – Jamaica’s best-known rum distillery since the 17th century. With the family’s earlier-than-expected sale of the business, he began a period of self-discovery and travel.
When he returned to Jamaica, he heard an ensemble led by blind pianist Lance Hayward at the Half Moon Hotel in Montego Bay. Blackwell asked Mr. Hayward if he could record him, and borrowing the name from Alec Waugh’s novel, *Island in the Sun*, he founded Island Records. The new company opened an office in Kingston, and a series of local hit singles soon followed. The growing Jamaican diaspora in England purchased the majority of Island’s vinyl records. Finding that he was selling more records in England than in Jamaica, Blackwell moved Island’s eadquarters to London in 1962, where he produced the single of a 15-year-old Jamaican girl named Millie. “My Boy Lollipop” sold more than seven million copies, becoming the worldwide hit that launched Island’s global fortunes.
Blackwell’s most lasting influence on modern popular music was his introduction of Reggae music to the world stage, signing Bob Marley and The Wailers, Jimmy Cliff, Toots and the Maytals, Burning Spear, Third World and Black Uhuru. Island Records also introduced artists such as U2, Melissa Etheridge, Cat Stevens, Traffic Grace Jones and Steve Winwood. He backed his first film project in 1971 – *The Harder They Come*, starring singer Jimmy Cliff. He formed Island Alive, his film production and distribution company, in 1983, releasing such films as *Kiss of the Spiderwoman*, *The Trip to Bountiful *and *Jimmy Reardon*, among others.
In the early ‘90s, Blackwell created Island Outpost, his hotel and resort company. The debut of the renowned Marlin Hotel in Miami’s South Beach in November 1991, as well as The Tides and The Kent, other Blackwell-owned hotels, has been credited for prompting the resurgence of South Beach. His vision of opening unique hotels and resorts in exquisite locations later expanded as far as Utah and the Bahamas. But it is Blackwell’s love of Jamaica that has trained his focus on the current Island Outpost collection. 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; and Goldeneye*, *the house built by Ian Fleming where he wrote all of the James Bond books opened in 1998. Each hotel is active in its community, participating in local social, economic, environmental, and educational sectors. Island Outpost initiatives under Blackwell’s Oracabessa Foundation range from coral restoration to local sports programming to hospitality training and education. And, because he loves the flavours of Jamaica as much as he does its sights and sounds, Blackwell launched his eponomous Blackwell’s Rum, in 2008. Today this boutique rum has become a cult hit, distributed throughout the world.
It’s been said that Jamaica’s most endangered natural resource is “brain drain,” the flight of talented individuals leaving the country to find economic opportunity elsewhere. This is why Blackwell actively recruits Jamaican ex-patriots for leadership positions. Having brought the best of Jamaica to the world through music, Blackwell is now working to bring the best of the world to Jamaica through travel. More than a business, Island Outpost is Chris Blackwell’s way of reawakening the sophisticated and responsible traveller to the beauty and vibe of Jamaica today.