Island Records, named for Island In The Sun (a novel, film, and Harry Belafonte calypso hit), was founded in Jamaica in 1959 by Chris Blackwell and Graeme Goodall. In May 1962, Blackwell relocated the label to the UK in order to market music by Jamaican artists to immigrant communities in London and Birmingham. In 1967, however, Island shifted its focus to relatively edgy rock music, and most of its Jamaican acts were moved to the spinoff label Trojan Records. Island resumed its support of reggae artists with the signing of The Wailers in 1972.
For several years, Island licensed American rights to its material to a variety of labels, most frequently A&M and Atlantic. In 1971, Island first gained its own US label identity through a distribution deal with Capitol. In 1973, Island's American division switched to independent distribution. In 1979, US Island began a series of manufacturing and distribution partnerships with major labels, first with Warner Bros. Records Inc., and then with Atlantic Records in late 1981. Similar relationships were forged with Ariola, Festival, Dacapo, and WEA for distribution in various other countries. Blackwell sold Island to PolyGram in 1989, but remained chairman of Island Entertainment Group until 1997.
Since 1999, the Island label has been under the control of the Island Def Jam Music Group in the US and Universal Island Records Ltd. in the UK. In Germany, the brand is part of Polydor Island Group, which formed from the short-lived Island Mercury Labelgroup. In Japan, the brand is used domestically by Universal Sigma.
The label celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2009 and an event was held in North London, UK to signify the occasion. The event was held in a two-storey venue and the bands that played at the event were: The Rumble Strips, Frankmusik, The King Blues and Innerpartysystem.
Island Records and crowdfunding platform Indiegogo announced a new partnership called "Fan Republic" on February 8, 2014. The initiative has been promoted as "a new place to discover and support emerging artists worldwide," whereby artists who reach or exceed their funding targets will receive exclusive awards from Island. The Island Records A&R team will assess all artists who are eligible for the awards and Fan Republic is charging an administration fee of 4 per cent, which is being sold as the lowest of any crowdfunding platform in current existence. The exclusive awards that are on offer include mixing and mastering services, and discounts on video production negotiated by Island Records staff.