If you hear Calypso music in some local watering hole or a shopping mall, you can probably thank Irving Burgie for that. The U.S. composer helped popularize the genre in mainstream music. Sadly, Burgie passed away today at the age of 95. The media reports around his death state that complications from heart failure ended up being the cause. But, he had so many accomplishments over the course of his life. Back in the 1950s, his song "Day-O" went on to be used in a bunch of films including Beetlejuice. That moment in the film sticks out for a lot of fans who came of age when the movie released. In a strong bit of trivia, astronauts used it as a wake-up call back in the 1990s. So, the song’s staying power has persisted. Harry Belafonte’s version of the ditty became a staple as he performed it as one of his signature songs for years. There was a very funny appearance on The Muppet Show where he broke into a rousing rendition of the song.
More recently, both Jason Derulo and Lil Wayne made use of the song for separate hits that made use of Day-O. Barbados Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley called for a moment of silence for the man who penned the country’s national anthem today. There are probably a lot of places in the country that will play "The Banana Boat Song" today. Burgie was actually born in Brooklyn and didn’t even pursue music full-time until he returned from duty in an all-black U.S. Army battalion in World War II. All of the benefits he earned from his time in the armed services went to fund his education at Juilliard performing arts school. Then, he would go on to launch a career as a guitarist and vocal performer before finding his groove as a songwriter.
Burgie’s website says that his songs have sold more than 100 million records worldwide. His most famous partnership, the bond with Harry Belafonte, produced his most popular work. Burgie wrote eight of 11 songs on Belafonte’s Calypso in 1956. That was the first album in U.S. history to top a million copies sold. The songwriter also teamed with Jimmy Buffett, Chuck Berry, and Sam Cooke. The scope of his career produced standout numbers like Island in the Sun, Jamaica Farewell, and Mary’s Boy Child.
A lot of this musical DNA also drifted into Ska and the more indie flavored compositions of recent decades. No one would have guessed that a Caribbean folk song would have such long and enduring reach. But, that’s the power of music and Irving Burgie was absolutely a master of getting people to have a good time.
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