Chris Blackwell spent his first 10 years in Jamaica, finished his education in England and returned home 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 spent in New York, where he befriended Miles Davis and fell in love with jazz, that led him to a life in music.
Returning to Jamaica, he heard an ensemble led by blind pianist Lance Hayward. Inspired to record their music and form his own label, Blackwell created Island Records, releasing the label's first album, Lance Hayward at the Half Moon, in 1959.
Island Records opened in Kingston, Jamaica in 1960. As business grew, Blackwell moved Island's headquarters to London and soon developed from a small specialist label to the foremost innovative independent company in the UK. Island gave its artists unprecedented creative freedom to develop their music and paid meticulous attention to design, transforming the traditional notions of packaging and style.
Blackwell backed his first film project in 1971: The Harder They Come. Its success and the genius of Bob Marley led to the international emergence of reggae. Later, Island signed a young Irish band rejected by every major label in Britain. The group was called U2.
In 1989, Island was bought by PolyGram. Around the same time, Blackwell created his resort company Island Outpost. In 1997, he left PolyGram and soon after founded Palm Pictures, responsible for successes like The Basketball Diaries and The Directors Label Series. Other releases include hip-hop documentary, Scratch and the Grammy-nominated documentary, Rebel Music. Blackwell's Palm Pictures division, RES Media Group, was responsible for the international touring digital film festival RESFEST.
Blackwell received the Order of Jamaica award in October 2004 for his contribution to art and entertainment in Jamaica and was inducted into the British Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame in November 2000.