Irving Burgie is the songwriter and composer who put Barbados music on the map. Better known under his stage name of ‘Lord Burgess,’ his songs have sold over 100 million records around the world. Irving is half American and half Barbadian and was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1926.
Burgie grew up in pre-war Brooklyn, New York surrounded by the black struggle leading up to the civil rights movement in the 1940’s. Despite an American environment, his Barbadian mother exposed Irving to Bajan culture, including Calypso music which would pave the way for Burgie’s life.
Burgie served in the US Army in an all-black battalion in the China-Burma-India Theatre in World War II where he developed a keen interest in studying music.
After the US Army, Irving studied music at the famous Julliard School of Music; the University of Arizona; and the University of Southern California. Having learned the theory, Burgie put it into practice and worked hard at building up his musical career through writing, singing and performing.
First Mega Hit Song
Burgie’s first mega-hit happened in the 1950’s when he wrote eight of the songs on the Harry Belafonte album – Calypso, including the world-renowned song “Day O, The Banana Boat Song” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PMigXnXMhQ4.
This album put Barbadian music on the world map as the album became the first ever to sell over one million copies in the US. It stayed at the top of the Billboard charts for a spectacular 36 weeks and remained on the Billboard charts itself for more than a year.
His song “Day-O” has been used for multiple purposes by filmmakers and television producers alike including the hit film Beetlejuice and the “We Are The World” video.
Perhaps at the pinnacle of “Day-O”‘s meteoric success was when the song used as the wake-up call for the astronauts on the Space Shuttle Atlantis, while they circled the globe in outer space in 1997!
Burgie continued to write music for many famous groups including the Kingston Trio (The Seine, El-Matador and The Wanderer).
In 1989, Burgie received an Honourary Doctor of Letters degree from the University of the West Indies.
Today, Burgie sponsors the Irving Burgie Award for Excellence in Literary and Creative Arts for high school students, a scholarship which he founded in 1980.
Burgie lives in New York and visits his mother country three times a year. Burgie grew up in what was possibly the most significant eras in American history, and you can read all about Burgie’s life in his biography: ‘Day O!!!: The Autobiography of Irving Burgie’.
Brett Callaghan is the founder and managing director of Totally Barbados. I specialize in writing content for the tourism industry for my island home of Barbados. I help companies build strategies to grow their businesses online with SMART marketing, advertising, and social media goals.