How A Shipwreck Off The Coast Of Jamaica In 1959 Changed Music Forever And Led To A Massive Fortune

There always appears to be one defining moment in the careers of the most successful people that changed everything for good. Usually, the moment is brief and may even be first unremarkable. a mentor’s unplanned words of support. a chance meeting with a potential business associate. Perhaps a sobering piece on CelebrityNetWorth To put it another way, the magic moment that leaves a lasting impression usually begins as something very modest and transient.

Chris Blackwell, the creator of Island Records, experienced a moment of magic that was anything but brief. His “magic” moment actually came very close to taking his life. Unbelievably, Blackwell owes his entire professional life to a shipwreck. Coming to within an inch of dying on a boat, would eventually help earn this ordinary British kid into one of the most successful individuals in the history of the music business with a personal net worth of $300 million.

Not familiar with Chris Blackwell? So, let me try to put this into context for you: U2, The Cranberries, Jethro Tull, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Cat Stevens, Grace Jones, Melissa Etheridge, to mention a few, would never have been known to the world without Chris Blackwell.

In fact, it’s likely that most of the world would not have ever heard any reggae music at all if it weren’t for Chris Blackwell. Seriously. This is how Chris Blackwell’s close call with death on a sinking boat altered the course of global music forever…

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Early Life

Chris Blackwell lived with his mother on the countless acres of property that her family owned while growing up in Jamaica. In his teenage years, he then relocated to Britain to enroll in London’s Harrow School. He decided not to attend college after finishing high school and instead spent a short period working for the Governor of Jamaica. He subsequently left to begin a career in retail and real estate. By managing jukeboxes, he eventually supplied them to bars and clubs around Jamaica. Up until a crucial day, his life appeared to be heading in a reasonably predictable direction.


Chris frequently did solo sailing off the coast of Jamaica as a pastime. When Chris was 21 years old and ready to embark on another sailing expedition, he left one day in 1959. But this journey would be different from the others. He was unable to escape the boat after it became stuck on a coral reef. He made the decision to swim toward shore to seek assistance after discovering he was stuck. The swim took a while. It took far longer than he expected. He was hardly awake and thoroughly worn out when he arrived at the beach. Somehow he managed to struggle out of the surf and then walked along the shore, desperately looking for help. The nearest town was miles away, and the temperature was increasing.

He was found laying in the dirt, inches from death, by a local Rasta fisherman. They took him in their arms and carried him inside, where they slowly restored his health. These neighborhood Rastas treated Chris’s wounds and provided food for almost two weeks. Chris’ rescuers sang reggae songs day and night throughout that time. Blackwell became addicted. His interest in and fascination with Rastafarian culture would have a profound effect on both his life and the world music industry.

Island Records

Later that year (1959), Chris convinced his parents to give him $10,000 to launch his own record label. The record company, which he fittingly named Island Records, would focus on music created by performers from the islands surrounding Jamaica.

Island started to establish a solid reputation for itself by 1962. 26 singles and two albums were under the label’s belt. After relocating to England, he started selling his albums from the trunk of his car until record company officials started to take notice of the small label.

He then changed Island’s emphasis to a more rock-oriented sound. The label went on to become one of the most significant music labels in the world during the following several years. His list of performers is genuinely mind-blowing, and he was renowned for developing and supporting his musicians. He signed The Spencer Davis Group with Steve Winwood, Traffic, Emerson, Jethro Tull, Cat Stevens, Grace Jones, Sly and Robbie, Sparks, Nick Drake, Robert Palmer, Melissa Ethridge, Tom Waits, The Cranberries, PJ Harvey and U2, just to name a few.

Bob Marley

“Catch a Fire” only sold moderately well, but it was enough to make a second release, “Burnin’.” Blackwell finally had his reggae superstar with the release of “Burnin’,” which featured the hit song “I Shot the Sheriff.”

Both the UK and the US awarded “Burnin” Silver and Gold certifications. Their next two albums “Natty Dread” and “Rastaman Vibration” both went Gold. The album Exodus was then released by Bob Marley and the Wailers on June 3, 1977. Exodus had enormous success on a global scale. In Canada alone, it achieved eight platinum sales. Exodus gave Bob Marley worldwide recognition and made him one of the most popular live performers ever. More than 75 million albums have been sold globally by Bob Marley and the Wailers to date.

Despite the label’s numerous achievements, it was actually having a very hard time financially. Blackwell tried to turn the business into a multi-media juggernaut, but the risk did not pay off. The loss of Bob Marley in 1981 only made their problems worse. In the late 80s, the company was unable to pay U2 more than $5 million in royalties they were owed, because the money had been used to launch an unsuccessful film division. Blackwell instead handed U2 ownership of all of their masters and 10% of the business as payment. In return, U2 helped pay off some of the company’s debts and remained with the label even though it was extremely close to bankruptcy. They made it abundantly clear that they were only willing to do this out of loyalty to Blackwell. Their kindness was rewarded.

Making A Fortune

The label’s fortunes ultimately turned around, but Blackwell soon found his small Jamaican label had surpassed his capacity as a result of stars like U2, Robert Palmer, and Angelique Kidjo selling enormous quantities of CDs and traveling nonstop.

Island Records was sold by Blackwell to PolyGram for $300 million in 1989. That’s the same as around $650 million today.

He served on the label’s board for an additional 10 years, but he spent the most of that time producing films and pursuing his first passion.

Real Estate

Chris bought real properties throughout his career anytime he had additional money.

All the most famous people in the world have rested in the lap of luxury at Goldeneye at some point. The best “hideout to visit” on earth, according to Jay-Z.

In 1982, while on vacation at the home, Sting penned “Every Breath You Take.”

Later, Chris grew his enterprise to include a wonderful selection of Jamaican hotels. He manages The Caves in Negril, Strawberry Hill in the Blue Mountains, and the Fleming Villa through his real estate firm, Island Outpost. Additionally, he has sold a number of properties in Miami, Florida and the Bahamas.

Numerous music periodicals have named Chris Blackwell as one of the most significant figures in British music history. In 2001, he was admitted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He is now widely acknowledged as being the cause of reggae’s mainstreaming.

For his decades of generosity and exceptional service to the entertainment business, he was awarded the Order of Jamaica in 2004.

Numerous well-known musicians credit him as the music executive who was most instrumental in their success. Just think, if Chris Blackwell hadn’t crashed his boat onto a random reef in the 50s, we might never have heard of great artists like Bob Marley or U2. It’s kind of amazing how one event in the life of one individual can have such a significant cultural impact on others all across the world. It seems almost impossible to reject fate or some sort of higher force when you hear tales like that.

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