Calypso Singer Irving Burgie, Writer of ‘Day-O’ and Other Harry Belafonte Hits, Dies at 95

Irving Burgie, a singer and songwriter who wrote many calypso hits for Harry Belafonte and others, including the 1956 hit “Day-O” (“The Banana Boat Song”), died on Friday, according to the New York Times and multiple news outlets. He was 95.

His death was announced on Saturday by Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados. Although he was born in Brooklyn, Burgie’s mother was from Barbados and he wrote the island nation’s national anthem, “In Plenty and in Time of Need.”

It is hard to imagine the calypso music craze that helped power Belafonte to stardom without Burgie. He performed under the name Lord Burgess and wrote eight of the 11 songs on Belafonte’s blockbuster 1956 album “Calypso,” including “Day-O,” which was based on a Jamaican folk song. He and lyricist William Attaway rewrote the song, which went on to become a global hit — clocking 31 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard singles chart — that has been revived many times over the years, from a concert shout-out by the Kinks to a comic scene in the 1989 film “Beetlejuice.” Other hits over the years include “Island in the Sun,” “Jamaica Farewell” and the Christmas-themed song “Mary’s Boy Child.”

Irving Louis Burgie was born in Brooklyn in 1924; his father was American. He served in an all-black unit in the U.S. Army during World War II, which is where he began to focus on music, learning to play guitar and singing in the chapel choir. After leaving the Army he took classes at Brooklyn College and later was accepted into Juilliard School of music as a classical singer. Inspired by the 1950s folk-music revival, he began to write songs based on the Caribbean songs he’d heard growing up. He worked steadily as a performer over the years and was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2007.


More Music

  • Leaving Neverland HBO

    HBO Seeks Dismissal of Michael Jackson Estate's Suit Over 'Leaving Neverland'

    HBO urged an appeals court on Friday to throw out litigation brought by the Michael Jackson estate over the 2019 documentary “Leaving Neverland.” HBO and the Jackson estate have been locked in a legal war ever since the premium cable network agreed to run the documentary, which chronicles child sexual abuse allegations against Jackson. The [...]

  • the jesus rolls

    Émilie Simon Contributes Flamenco/Gypsy Vibe to John Turturro's ‘The Jesus Rolls’

    For French musician Émilie Simon, the flamenco-meets-gypsy vibe writer-director John Turturro was seeking for the soundtrack to his movie “The Jesus Rolls” turned out to be in her musical and genetical DNA. “This music originally comes from where I grew up in the south of France,” says the 41-year-old electronic musician, who has released five [...]

  • Normani Camila Cabello

    Normani Responds to Camila Cabello's Old Racist Posts: 'It Was Devastating'

    Normani has commented on her former Fifth Harmony bandmate Camila Cabello’s history of racist behavior on social media. Last year, Cabello came under fire when years-old posts featuring racist slurs and derogatory memes from the singer’s personal Tumblr resurfaced online. In a new Rolling Stone cover story, Normani first expressed trepidation toward addressing the issue [...]

  • Tierra Whack Talks Fashion, 'What Whack

    Tierra Whack Talks Fashion, 'What Whack Wears,' and Her Next Album

    Since the 2018 release of her debut album, “Whack World,” and its frenetic 15-songs-in-15-minutes aesthetic, rapper-producer Tierra Whack has drawn attention to her wily brand of fractured hip hop. Not only did she snag nearly 60 million audio streams in the U.S., according to Nielsen Music (as of 2019’s end), Whack won the attention of Jody Gerson and Universal [...]

  • Editorial use only. Hand Out HANDOUT

    Big Hit, Home to BTS, Eyes $5B Valuation in IPO Bid; Will Coronavirus Stall the Plan?

    South Korea’s Big Hit Entertainment, home to global K-pop sensations BTS, is moving toward an IPO and recently selected underwriters. Sources in the investment banking industry say JP Morgan, NH Investment & Securities, and Korea Investment & Securities were chosen as main managers early this week, while Mirae Asset Daewoo is also on board as a joint manager. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content