Calypso king who penned hit song Day-O dies at 95
WHEN calypso ruled the airwaves its musical monarch was Irving Burgie, whose international hits such as Day-O brought the Caribbean craze into the mainstream.
The self-styled Lord Burgess – who has died at the age of 95 – was dubbed the King of Calypso during a career that spanned more than 70 years.
Day-O – which was co-written by Burgie and sung by Harry Belafonte – took the world by storm when it was released in 1956, and went on to be used in films, adverts and even as a wake-up call for astronauts in space.
More recently, the hit – also known as The Banana Boat Song – has been sampled by rapper Lil Wayne and singer Jason Derulo.
Burgie died on Friday after he suffered complications from heart failure. The songwriter worked with artists including Chuck Berry, Carly Simon and Sam Cooke.
His songs sold more than 100million copies worldwide, and he also wrote In Plenty And In Time Of Need – the national anthem of Barbados, where his mother was born. After his death was announced, there was a minute’s silence at the Barbados Independence Day Parade on Saturday.
Burgie and Belafonte, now 92, kicked off the calypso craze that took hold around the world for more than a decade.
Belafonte’s 1956 album Calypso, on which Burgie wrote eight of the 11 songs including Day-O, was the first LP to sell more than a million copies in the US. The album topped the US charts for more than 32 weeks, a record at the time. Burgie’s hits also included Island In The Sun and Mary’s Boy Child, which he co-wrote with Belafonte and which was covered by Boney M in 1978.
US music critic Robert Shelton wrote of Burgie: ‘If there were an aristocracy in the world of calypso, Lord Burgess would be one of the reigning figures.’
Day-O, based on a Jamaican folk song, made Belafonte a household name. Burgie said calypso had ‘revolutionised music’ by introducing Caribbean rhythms to mainstream pop, adding: ‘The combination of me as the writer and Belafonte as the performer took off.’
Belafonte’s crossover success paved the way for Caribbean-influenced music to become mainstream in the Sixties.
Burgie was born in New York in 1924. After serving in an all-black army battalion in the Second World War, he used his demob money to pay for studies at the famous Juilliard School of Music and later became a folk singer.
He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2007, and in honour of the 50th anniversary of Day-O, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers created a scholarship in his name.
Burgie, who was married twice, is survived by two sons from his first marriage, one grandchild and one great-grandchild.
Folk star: Burgie in April Caribbean craze: Burgie, who found fame writing songs for Harry Belafonte, inset