Island Records was founded in Jamaica on 4 July 1959 by Chris Blackwell and Graeme Goodall, and partially financed by Stanley Borden from RKO, taking its name from the 1955 Alec Waugh novel, subsequent film and Harry Belafonte hit song “Island in the Sun”.
Founder Chris Blackwell reflects on the label:
I never expected Island Records to grow into the intentional phenomenon it became. When I was starting out making my first record with Lance Hayward in 1959, all I wanted to do was get that one album released. Even in Britain when at first I was only releasing Jamaican singles , I felt I was in a different business entirely from the world of EMI and Decca – they controlled 95% of the UK pop business but that wasn’t my world.
When the ‘underground rock’ thing started to happen, I could see a big change was taking place. Everything was starting to break down. The whole thing became more jazz and more loose. Which fit in with what I was about: my roots were Jamaica and jazz. I was in the right place at the right time.
I was looking for a label for popular material because Island was identifiable as a label just doing Jamaican music. Then I realized I couldn’t get rid of the name Island, because it was the overall name of the company. So that’s when I came up with the idea of the pink Island label, because I thought it was so far away from Jamaican music that people wouldn’t make the connection. Later when we had such success with Bob Marley, it was as though the Jamaican Connection had come full circle: when U2 would come down to Jamaica to visit, it felt like an expansion of that.
I was always very interested in artwork. If you felt that the artwork was intriguing then there must be something going on inside. There’s some thought, there’s some creativity. Artwork was very important to Island’s life. You can see how artwork developed and transformed itself, always seeming a reflection of the larger world.
I was very fortunate to connect with some great individuals along the way: songwriters, artists, designers, producers, film-makers, recording engineers, video directors and many many talented people who proudly worked at Island over the years to introduce and promote their work.
– Chris Blackwell, taken from Keep on Running, the Story of Island Records, 2009