Tag Archives: 1924

RIP Irving ‘calypso’ Burgie (1924 – 2019)

 Jamaica – Mento 1951-1958 (2009)

Irving Burgie was an American songwriter best-known for two songs: “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” and “Jamaica Farewell“, both made famous by Harry Belafonte on his album Calypso.

I’m interested in the era when traditional folk songs (which are per definition authorless) were appropriated by Western musicians and turned into pop hits.

This seems to also have been the case with the Belafonte songs Irving Burgie “wrote” .

In the words of Sholem Stein:

Harry Belafonte, a New Yorker of Jamaican origin, released wildly popular “calypso” hit records in the period 1956-1958. In reality “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” and “Jamaica Farewell” – both featured on Calypso (1956) and both written by Irving Burgie – were mento songs sold as calypso. Previously recorded Jamaican versions of these now classic “calypso” hits can be heard on the compilation Jamaica – Mento 1951-1958 (2009) [above].

Louise Bennett-Coverley gave Harry Belafonte the foundation for his 1956 hit “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” by telling him about the Jamaican folk song “Hill and Gully Rider” (the name also given as “Day Dah Light”).”

“Jamaica Farewell” was compiled and modified from many folk pieces to make a new song. Burgie acknowledged his use of the tune of another mento, “Iron Bar””.–Sholem Stein

I remember vividly how one night my parents went to a Harry Belafonte concert in Antwerp and lodged me and my brother in a fancy hotel which had a pool that was partly inside and partly outside the hotel. It was winter and the pool outside was steaming into the open air. This must have been before the first oil crisis. (update: I called my mother, it was the Sofitel, located on the Boomsesteenweg 15, Aartselaar)

RIP Robert “snapshot aesthetic” Frank (1924 – 2019)

Robert Frank was a Swiss photographer, best-known for his photo book The Americans (1958) and his documentary on The Rolling Stones, Cocksucker Blues (1972).

Three gay men from ‘The Americans’

Of that book, which was criticized at the time with the words “meaningless blur, grain, muddy exposures, drunken horizons and general sloppiness” by mainstream media, a criticism that by the way, became the hallmark of a new aesthetic in photography: the new snapshot aesthetic.

My fave picture of that collection is the photo of three gay men, looking defyingly into the camera. Behind them is a sign which reads ‘Don’t Miss Mister Instin …’.

This particular photo is reminiscent of the work in Naked City (1945) by Weegee, of the photos of Paris de Nuit (1933) by Brassai and is also a precursor to Diane Arbus and Nan Goldin.

And then there is Cocksucker Blues.

Cocksucker Blues pt. 1
Cocksucker Blues pt. 2

RIP Sylvia Miles (1924 – 2019)

Actress Sylvia Miles died. She was 94. I discovered her via the book Cult Movie Stars (1991) which I bought the year it came out. It describes Miles as a “quirky, funny, busty blonde New York character actress.”

The 1990s was the time of video rental stores and I after I had read Cult Movie Stars from cover to cover I scoured Antwerp looking for old films. So I saw a handful of Miles’ films including Heat (1972) [above], as well as many other Warhol films. Heat opens with the wonderful John Cale song, “Days of Steam” from the album The Academy in Peril (1972).

Sylvia Miles is mainly known for her part in Midnight Cowboy (1969) but she also starred in Denise Calls Up (1996), one of my canonical films.