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!”