The Man Who Introduced the World to Bob Marley - Chris Blackwell
Chris Blackwell, multi-faceted businessman was born in London, England. He founded the world-famous music production company Island Records. He is best known for fruitful business deals such as introducing the world to Bob Marley and reggae music. For a description of other facets of his life and achievements, read on…
Chris Blackwell, inductee in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, record producer, Island Records founder, luxury resorts owner… is best known for introducing the world to Bob Marley. According to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, to which Blackwell was inducted in 2001, he is “the single person most responsible for turning the world on to reggae music." He has also fostered the careers of a large number of superstar artistes like Steve Winwood, Chronixx, and U2.
Having launched independent label Island Records at the age of 22, Blackwell traversed from his rather posh English upbringing to the seedier world of the recording business. Blackwell built his music business for over four decades, becoming one of the most respected and loved figures in a business where that combination is rare.
While his ability to spot talent is remarkable, he had one oversight along the way-- Elton John. When asked about having turned down the opportunity to work with “Rocket Man,” Blackwell turns introspective. “It was a bad, bad decision. He (Elton John) was so shy. I just felt he wasn’t somebody who would make it on stage.”
Fortunately, this decision was just a small part of a bigger picture. After selling his record label for $300 million, he shifted into the hotel business. First stop was Miami and then a lucrative turn to Jamaica. He credits his mom, a woman turning 104 this year, with inspiring him to buy Goldeneye in Jamaica. “She liked the place and liked to swim there and asked me if I’d consider buying it for her. That’s what I did.”
He bought Ian Fleming’s home, Goldeneye, which he turned into the core of a luxury resort. Around this luxury resort, he created and runs a company called Island Outpost, which owns several resorts in Jamaica. He was also an early pioneer into revitalizing Miami’s South Beach and owned 10 hotels there at one point, including the Marlin.
In 2009, Blackwell introduced his own line of rum. Blackwell Black Gold, taps into his family’s legacy of rum production when they owned both the J Wray & Nephew — Wray and Nephew White Overproof Rum (126 proof) — and Appleton Distilleries.
With several luxury resorts and a brand of rum to his name, he still has moments of wonder. Wonder about what he’ll do when he grows up, when he gets old. Until then, we’ll have to wait to see what direction he travels.
Christopher Percy Gordon Blackwell was born into an elite family of an Irish father and Jamaican mother in London, England. Blackwell’s father was from the clan that founded Crosse & Blackwell, which makes chutneys and fancy relishes and such. Chris grew up on an estate in Jamaica but was sent off to the posh English boarding school, Harrow (Winston Churchill went there). There, Blackwell bridled over the discipline and the fancy uniforms, replete with straw boaters.
Back in Jamaica, Blackwell’s then-divorced mother Blanche, had become friendly with Ian Fleming, the former British secret service agent turned writer. He had begun to churn out a series of pulpy novels based on the exploits of a spy named Bond. James Bond. Fleming built a house he named ‘Goldeneye’ near the Blackwells and in 1962, young Chris worked on the film Dr No, which was partly shot in Jamaica near Goldeneye.
Blackwell’s story can’t be disentangled from Marley’s and vice versa. The two transformed each other’s lives and careers in ways that would change the world of music too. “When he saw Marley, he realized that if reggae stayed as it was, it would be like calypso -- small-time music. So he decided to make it into rock music, says Wayne Jobson, a producer, musician and longtime friend of Blackwell’s, whose cousin Diane was Marley’s attorney. “Chris flooded the rock market and the college market, got The Wailers to open for Traffic and delivered it to the rock’n’roll audience. He saw that Bob had the charisma to be a rock star.”
His genius was to find Bob Marley and promote him as a rock star and not just some reggae artiste, or finding South Beach or U2 or Cat Stevens or Traffic, early on. Nowadays he markets an enticingly authentic Jamaican experience, in sharp contrast to the all-inclusive mass tourism impulse that predominates these days. It works. Rarely is someone so successful just by being his own man, and in his case, a Jamaican man.
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Jacqueline Cameron is an editor/writer with years of writing experience running the gamut from blogging to reporting. She lives in Kingston, Jamaica and is the chief writer for the Jamaica So Nice Blog. She is a trained engineer and musician and loves to see people transformed through her work.