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Writer of 'Day-O' and a National Anthem Dies

Irving Burgie's songs, many recorded by Harry Belafonte, sold more than 100 million copies
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 2, 2019 4:44 PM CST
Harry Belafonte recorded 35 songs written by Burgie.   (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
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(Newser) – Irving Burgie, who wrote the words for Harry Belafonte's hit "Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)," as well as the Barbados national anthem, has died. He was 95 and died Friday in Brooklyn, where he was born, CNN reports. Recordings of his songs have sold more than 100 million copies worldwide. Burgie's death was announced during Barbados' Independence Day Parade by the prime minister, and a moment of silence was observed, per the Songwriters Hall of Fame, which calls Burgie "one of the greatest composers of Caribbean music." His mother was from Barbados, and he wrote the words to its national anthem after it became independent in 1966. He served in an all-black unit in the US Army during World War II, then went to the Julliard School on the GI Bill.

He performed on the folk circuit between Chicago and New York as "Lord Burgess," per the AP, debuting at the Village Vanguard in 1954. Burgie made his mark two years later when Harry Belafonte's album, Calypso, became a hit; it was the first album to sell more than 1 million copies in the US. Eight of the 11 tracks on the album were Burgie songs. One of them was the classic "Day-O," which later was used by NASA to wake up astronauts and became the name of his autobiography. Belafonte put 35 of Burgie's songs on his records in all, but they also were recorded by artists including Chuck Berry, Sam Cooke, the Kingston Trio and Carly Simon. Burgie also wrote "Jamaica Farewell," "Island In The Sun" and "Angelina." (Read more songwriter stories.)

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