The most successful musician you’ve never heard of

Irving Burgie’s sold over 300 million records. He wrote most of the world’s first million selling album. His tunes have been sampled by everyone from Lil Wayne to – dear God! – Jason Derulo.

But you won’t know his name, and the kids in the school opposite his apartment walk past him without a glance.

Irving’s the songwriter behind all of ’50s legend Harry Belafonte’s greatest hits. He wrote most of Harry’s amazing Calypso album, songs like Island in the Sun, Jamaica Farewell and Day-O. Yes, Day-O. The song that goes “Dayyyyyyyyyy-o, dayyyyy-ayyy-ayyy-o!” and has been in so many adverts you’d have thought it’d been banned by now.

I tried to ask Harry about Irving once but his wife stopped me. “Don’t mention him. They don’t talk,” she said. It was unsurprising: Harry’s never mentioned Irving’s role in his success.

Irving didn’t seem that fussed by Harry’s attitude when I met him recently. He happily and beautifully sung Day-O for me (see the video at the top of this post).

The reason I met Irving is because he also happens to be one of the men behind Barbados’ national anthem. Although, amusingly, he said one of his hits would make a better anthem for the country.

“I think there’s a couple of verse in [Island in the Sun] that say a lot in a quiet way,” he said. “‘When morning breaks, the heaven on high, I lift my heavy load to the sky; sun comes down with a burning glow, that mingles my sweat with the earth below. I see woman on bended knee, cutting cane for family; I see man at the waterside, casting nets at the surging tide’.

“That sums up a love and an expression and a feeling for a land more than any anthem!”

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