Argo Records (UK) was founded in 1951 by Harley Usill and musicologist Cyril Clarke as a label specializing in spoken-word recordings and poetry. The label released hundreds of such albums throughout the 1950s, including the complete works of William Shakespeare, but it also published field recordings of traditional folk music from places like India, Indonesia and Brazil.
Financial troubles led to Argo Records becoming a part of British Decca's large roster of record labels in 1957, but Argo kept its own independent management with Usill still at the helms. In the 1960s, the company diversified into genres such as Jazz (Michael Garrick) and Folk Music with releases by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger, Tom Paley and The Druids, before it turned its focus to audiobooks in the early 1970s. Harley Usill was in charge at Argo for almost 30 years, until 1980 when British Decca was taken over by PolyGram.
Decca/PolyGram relaunched the Argo imprint in the early 1990s as an outlet for choral, organ, and British and American classical music. This last incarnation of Argo Records was active until 1998.
Argo Records (UK) and Argo Records (USA) are not related to each other.
Argo Records (USA) was launched in 1955 as the jazz subsidiary of Chess Records. Some of the best known jazz artists on Argo were Ahmad Jamal, James Moody, King Fleming, Sonny Stitt and Ramsey Lewis. But soon, Argo offered a variety of other musical genres, including pop, blues, and even calypso. A dedicated Blues/R&B series (LP-4000) was started in 1960.
Most of Argo's albums were re-released several times with the identical catalogue number but different label designs. It is not always easy to identify the original first label for a particular release, and it is rather normal to find the same album with three or more different label variations. Argo Records (USA) changed its name in 1965 to Cadet Records when the company discovered that an older Argo Records already existed in the UK.