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Irving Burgie: The Father of Modern Calypso

Calypso Irving Burgie

The Father of Modern Calypso features the music of Irving Burgie a.k.a Lord Burgess.  The native New Yorker served in the U.S. Army in World War II and during his service learned to play guitar. After college he began performing on the 1950s folk circuit (along with Tom Paxton, Dave van Ronk, The Kingston Trio and others).  After being introduced to Harry Belafonte by a RCA Records executive, eight of Burgie's songs were recorded for Belefonte's groundbreaking 1956 album Calypso - the first LP to sell one million copies.

"Jamaica Farewell" and "Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)" became classics with "Day-O" becoming one of the most played songs in history.  Burgie, using the alias “Lord Burgess”, wrote 20 more songs which were recorded by Belafonte including the title song for the movie "Island In the Sun".

Burgie’s songs were incredibly important in the progression of folk/pop music. Because of the airplay received on the Belafonte version. “Jamaica Farewell” became a standard. The song was later covered by Brian Wilson (The Beach Boys), Jimmy Buffett, Sam Cooke, Carly Simon among others.  One of the important collateral results of “Jamaica Farewell” was its effect on a San Francisco based group originally called Dave Guard and the Calypsonians. After hearing Belafonte’s "Calypso", the band changed their name to The Kingston Quartet (with female vocalist Barbara Bogue) and finally in 1958 to The Kingston Trio.

While "Jamaica Farewell" and "Day-O" became hits in the U.S., the music helped draw interest and spur tourism to Jamaica and the West Indies.  "Day-O" has become one of the most popular songs of all time. The refrain has long been played at almost all major baseball parks.  In addition to film and music uses, the song has been covered by an extraordinary range of artists - from the Grateful Dead and the Neville Brothers to the samples in the songs by Jason Derulo and Lil’ Wayne.

In 1966 Burgie wrote the national anthem for Barbados, his mother’s birthplace, “In Plenty and in Time of Need”.

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of "Day-O", the ASCAP Foundation established the Irving Burgie Scholarship to support aspiring African-American songwriters from New York City. This annual scholarship is awarded alternately between the Berklee College of Music and the University of Southern California.

Irving Burgie lives in Hollis, Queens, New York - not far from the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn where he was born in 1924.

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