Blackwell, the icon
Chris Blackwell

WHEN the Music Business Worldwide (MBW) A&R Awards are handed out today at London's Abbey Road Studios, Chris Blackwell, legendary co-founder of Island Records, will be on hand to accept the A&R Icon award.

Blackwell will be presented with the award in front of more than 500 music industry executives, artistes and entrepreneurs.

The UK-focused awards are made up of a mix of independent and major professionals across labels, management and publishing. The awards, which are divided into three category groups, will be judged on a combination of commercial, critical and creative achievement.

Blackwell has worked with and supported several acts over his illustrious decades-long career. They include Bob Marley, U2, Steve Winwood, Cat Stevens, Grace Jones, Roxy Music, Nick Drake, John Martyn and, Toots and the Maytals and Millie Small.

Chris Blackwell

Aside from signing Marley to his Island Records label, Blackwell co-produced classic albums including Uprising, Natty Dread, Burnin, and Catch a Fire.

The A&R Awards will recognise both Blackwell's extraordinary track record of artiste development, as well as his lasting influence on the global music business – and on music itself.

In an interview with the Music Business Worldwide website Jamaican singer Grace Jones said Blackwell "knows how to get the very best out of people… he's a mover and a shaker and a mischief-maker".

Leading figures from the music industry have congratulated Blackwell on his A&R Icon accolade.

David Geffen told MBW: "I cannot think of anyone more deserving of this award than Chris. What he did for the music world and reggae in particular is astounding. He is a pioneer."

Richard Branson added: "Chris Blackwell had a profound influence on the music industry [and] helped develop some of the most legendary artists of our time. He challenged the music industry, and his contributions to it are immeasurable. To my lifelong dear friend – well done!"

Cedella Marley, Bob and Rita's daughter and the CEO of the Bob Marley Group of Companies, said: "A true visionary, supporting and investing in the longevity of the careers of so many amazing artists, I feel blessed and honoured to call CB a friend, godfather and trusted keeper of my father's legacy."

Paul McGuinness, who managed U2 from 1978 through to 2010, said: "It was very hard to get a record deal for U2. All the majors had passed when Chris Blackwell at Island offered us a deal in 1980. In retrospect we were extremely fortunate to be with an independent label that gave the band time to develop. It took until the third album to have success on the charts though we were doing well on the road.

"The association with Island has always been cool. There has always been a lot of mutual respect between the label and the band. Their network of independent licencees taught me how the world works. We wanted to be big everywhere. When the label was sold to PolyGram [which became Universal] it was good to get the chance to infiltrate a big corporation. Chris remains a dear friend of mine and the guys in the band," he continued.

In 2004, the Order of Jamaica --- Jamaica's fifth-highest honour --- was bestowed upon Blackwell for philanthropy and outstanding contribution to the entertainment industry.

BY KEVIN JACKSON Observer writer

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