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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.

 

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