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The founder of Island Records, Chris Blackwell, bought Strawberry Hill, which is now home to 14 villas overlooking Kingston. The board room at the hotel contains memorabilia and dozens of musical sales certifications. Until Blackwell sold the label to PolyGram in 1989, Island was the largest indie record label in history.
By Adam Gutteridge ——-

It’s as though you are entering the realm of the Sun King. The room fills with yellow light. A golden aura radiates from the discs that line the walls.

The record room at Strawberry Hill, a luxury resort in Jamaica, is a dazzling tribute to the influence of legendary music mogul Chris Blackwell.

Blackwell founded Island Records, the label that brought reggae to the world.

In the late 1960s, as his stable of acts started to grow, Blackwell took a chance on a local Jamaican act with an iffy reputation, The Wailers, advancing them money. The act of generosity bound the talented band to the promoter. Soon enough, the world was dancing to a new beat; that of Bob Marley and The Wailers, thanks to Island Records.

Blackwell’s desire to embrace reggae culture was inspired by an episode in his early life in Jamaica. In 1958, he was sailing when his boat ran aground on a reef. He swam ashore and collapsed on the beach, where he was rescued by Rasta fishermen who tended his wounds and restored him to health with traditional ital, or natural, food. The experience gave Blackwell a spiritual introduction to Rastafarianism, and was a key to his connection to the culture and its music.

Chris Blackwell

“This was a time when white people’s apprehension at the sight of dreadlocks would be almost a givven… but the incident convinced the twenty-year-old Blackwell that they were nothing to be afraid of,” writes Lloyd Bradley in his definitive book This is Reggae Music. “He vowed to promote sufferah culture to the rest of the world, so that as many people as possible might come to terms with ghetto people the way he had.”

Blackwell worked with several Jamaican acts. He recorded Jamaican singer Grace Jones backed by legendary Jamaican rhythm section Sly Dunbar (on drums) and Robbie Shakespeare (on bass). And through an Island offshoot, he recorded Burning Spear, Black Uhuru and Third World.

Island Records also released the hit movie The Harder They Come in the U.K., which featured Jimmy Cliff, and introduced a streetwise Jamaican way of life into popular consciousness.

Island was not just a reggae label. It introduced many major stars outside that genre, among them: Roxy Music, Cat Stevens and U2. Other Island acts included Free, Traffic, Nick Drake, Fairport Convention, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, King Crimson, and, latterly, Amy Winehouse.

In 1972, Blackwell bought Strawberry Hill, a mountain estate nestled 3,000 feet up in Jamaica’s Blue Mountains.

At the time, he was introducing Marley and reggae into mainstream popular music. During the ’70s and ’80s, musicians such as the Rolling Stones, Marianne Faithful, Grace Jones, Black Uhuru and Willie Nelson visited. Marley, himself, convalesced at Strawberry Hill after he was shot in Jamaica in 1976.

Strawberry Hill became a meeting place for musicians to jam together. Jamaica’s famed Studio One brought its mixing board up to the house to record Mick Jagger and Peter Tosh. Third World recorded its first album Sata Amasa Gana there.

In 1986, Strawberry Hill opened to the public as a restaurant. In 1988, Hurricane Gilbert destroyed the great house. In 1991, Blackwell developed the property into a boutique hotel and spa, with 14 colonial-inspired villas, a wood bar, an infinity pool and a restaurant offering Jamaican fare.

Each gold record at Strawberry Hill carries a story. Go online to to zoom in on the albums on the wall and discover the full story.

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