Tag Archives: appropriation

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)