|Distributor(s)||Capitol Music Group|
|Genre||Various (historic), urban (current)|
|Country of origin||U.S.|
Imperial Records is an American record company and label started in 1947 by Lew Chudd and reactivated in 2006 by EMI, which owned the label and back catalogue at the time. The current owner is Universal Music Group.
When Imperial was founded in 1947, it concentrated on rhythm and blues (R&B) and country music: Fats Domino, Frankie Ford, Ricky Nelson, and Slim Whitman. In the UK Imperial was distributed by London Records.
Imperial bought Aladdin Records in 1960 and Minit Records in 1963 (having distributed Minit since 1960). During the 1950s, Imperial was one of the primary labels issuing a vast quantity of R&B from New Orleans, through their involvement with the producer and writer Dave Bartholomew, and in the 1960s, with their distribution (and purchase, a few years later) of the independent label Minit Records.
In 1963, after Imperial lost Fats Domino and Ricky Nelson to rival record companies, Chudd sold the label to Liberty Records. Under Liberty's management, the label enjoyed success with Irma Thomas, Johnny Rivers, Jackie DeShannon, Classics IV, and Cher.
During the British Invasion, Liberty (whose recordings were distributed by EMI in the UK) licensed The Hollies, Billy J. Kramer, the Dakotas, and the Swinging Blue Jeans from EMI. Recordings by the Bonzo Dog Band and Kim Fowley were issued in the U.S. on the Imperial label.
By 1970 the label had become part of Liberty's merger with United Artists Records but was phased out shortly after, with its artists being transferred to United Artists. EMI acquired the Imperial Records catalogue with its acquisition of UA Records in 1979.
This is not the same Imperial Records that exists currently in Japan or that was a division of EMI's Dutch arm.
Throughout the 1990s, EMI released CD compilations of Imperial artists that featured the original Imperial labels.
In June 2006, EMI re-activated the Imperial Records imprint and announced that it would be the urban music division of Caroline Distribution, part of Virgin Records, spearheaded by the urban music veteran Neil Levine. The first signing to the imprint was Raptivism Records. Fat Joe signed with Virgin Records and Imperial Records. Imperial provides resources for developing urban artists with EMI's major labels, including Capitol Records and Virgin Records, which were merged into the Capitol Music Group in January 2007. Universal Music Group acquired the Capitol Music Group as part of its acquisition of EMI's recorded music operations in 2012.