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Calypso King Irving Burgie Shoots for Broadway - 2003-05-28

Singer and songwriter Irving Burgie is one of the greatest composers of Caribbean music of all time. His classic tune Banana Boat (Day-O) launched the career of Harry Belafonte. Burgee's other calypso songs have been recorded by the Kingston Trio, Jimmy Buffett, Africa's Miriam Makeba and many others. Irving Burgie has anew album called The Father of Modern Calypso.

Irving Burgie was born and raised in a West Indian neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. His mother had emigrated to the U.S. from Barbados. Studying at the prestigious Julliard School of Music, Irving began composing and performing calypso songs under the name Lord Burgess. In the 1950s, he formed a special relationship with another up and coming West Indian singer, Harry Belafonte, and wrote his signature tune, Banana Boat (Day-O).

"With the combination of my writing and Belafonte's performances, it was like a 'one-two punch' for a heavyweight fighter," he said. "They clicked to the point that I did three albums with Belafonte and some 34 songs during the course of six years, from 1955 to 1961."

Some of Irving Burgie's greatest hits include Jamaica Farewell, Yellow Bird and Island in the Sun, which have become known to several generations. He has been an ambassador of calypso music to cultures around the globe, and has introduced children to the infectious rhythms of the West Indies by way of a teaching program for American schools.

In the 1950s, Irving had an idea about how he could make calypso more accessible to a world audience.

"I started writing more about the land and the people and feeling of being in the Caribbean, which was something new at that time. It had never really been done, but it was widely accepted throughout the world," he explained.

In 1988, the music of Irving Burgie had a revival when some of his tunes were featured in the hit film Beetlejuice.

Several of his classic songs appear on his album The Father of Modern Calypso, which is a new recording. At age 78, Irving is pleased that he could finally release his very first full-length album. He even decided to come up with a few new tunes, I'm A Candy and Love Will Come By.

"I wrote a show called Day-O which is built around the songs I wrote over the years. We're shooting for a shot on Broadway with it, and so a couple of the songs from the show are included in the new album," he said.

Irving Burgie recently appeared at a songwriter's showcase at the Bottom Line club in his hometown of New York City, where he performed some of his most memorable tunes.

"I was really amazed at the reception I got there," he recalled. "The place was packed with a primarily young audience. But when I was introduced, and they mentioned some of my songs, and I started playing and singing the first one, I think, was Jamaica Farewell, the reception was so strong that I was really stunned there for a moment, and I had a little bit of a lump in my throat when I started out the song."

Irving Burgie will be making appearances at selected venues across the U.S., and is also hard at work on his new musical Day-O, which he hopes will see the lights of Broadway.