Irving Burgie

Over the past half century, Irving Burgie has authored a treasury of timeless Caribbean songs for the stage, screen and popular recording and was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2007. His songs have sold more than 100 million records throughout the world. 2006 celebrated the 50th Anniversary of his most successful song, Day-O, written for Harry Belafonte. That song was also named the Song of the Century at the Annual Sunshine Awards. Burgie wrote 8 of the 11 songs on Harry Belafonte’s Calypso album, including Day-O, which became the first LP in history to sell one million units (1956). It was number-one on the Billboard Charts for 32 weeks. He also wrote Island in the Sun, for the film of the same name, produced by Darryl Zanuck; starring Harry Belafonte and Joan Fontaine. His song, Jamaica Farewell became Belafonte’s theme song. In Burgie’s long and historic career, he wrote more than 34 songs for Harry Belafonte.

Burgie was born in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn in 1924. He joined the U.S. Army and fought in World War II in 1943. His experience as a soldier in an all black battalion in the China-Burma India Theatre was where he developed an interest in music and studying in general. After returning from the war, he attended the Julliard School of Music, the University of Arizona, and the University of Southern California with the help of the G.I. Bill.

Burgie’s first performing gig as a singer-guitarist was in 1953 at the Blue Angel in Chicago. In 1954, he played the Village Vanguard in New York City. After he met Harry Belafonte in 1955, the rest was history. Burgie wrote the lyrics and music for the 1963 off-Broadway show Ballad for Bimshire, starring Ossie Davis. As Lord Burgess, he has performed in venues including the Art Institute of Chicago, New York’s Town Hall and Carnegie Hall. In 1966, he wrote the national anthem for Barbados – his mother’s birthplace. In 1989, Burgie was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Letters Degree from the University Of The West Indies. In May 2008, he received a Doctorate of Fine Arts Degree from St. John’s University in New York. In June 2009, he received a Doctor of Humane Letters Degree from York College of the City University of New York

Burgie was also inscribed onto the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Celebrity Path in 2007. He joins an impressive roster of ‘Brooklynites’ that boasts the likes of George Gershwin, Jackie Gleason, Harry Houdini, and Walt Whitman. In honor of the 50th Anniversary of Day-O, the ASCAP Foundation established the Irving Burgie Scholarship, which is presented annually to an African-American songwriter from New York City. The scholarship alternates between the Berklee College of Music and the University of Southern California.

Burgie’s life and career is now chronicled in his autobiography, Day-O!!!. The book is set amid a wider social tapestry that depicts the plight, joys and foibles of one black family growing up in pre-war Brooklyn and the broader black struggle leading up to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s. It documents his meteoric rise to the top echelons of the music business as the songwriter who composed for Harry Belafonte, the Kingston Trio and many more.

 

Irving Burgie's autobiography immediately draws the reader into a life that captures the imagination and holds the interest.
Sydney Poitier