Award-winning artist, and playwright, Irving Burgie whose songs “Day’O,” “Island In the Sun” and “Jamaica Farewell” – hits by superstar Harry Belafonte, was greeted with loud applause when he arrived at the Barbados Consulate in New York City to celebrate 90 on his exact birth date, July 28.
The reception hosted by incoming Barbados Consul General, Dr. Donna Hunte-Cox, in collaboration with the Permanent Mission of Barbados and Invest Barbados, showcased the incredible life of Burgie, which included a documentary film, he recently produced.
Saxophonist Curtis Haywood serenaded Burgie whose lineage is from Barbados. Hunte-Cox who refered to Burgie as the greatest songwriter to have ever lived from the Caribbean, said, “we feel a sense of pride whenever his name is uttered.”
During the evening, hosted by Maxin Alexander, and emceed by BTB VP/Marketing, Campbell Rudder, the diplomat spoke eloquently of the esteemed genius who she noted wrote eight of the 11 songs on Belafonte’s album that sold 1 million copies.
Ayana Alexander and Michael Streeks, sang two renditions of the Barbados National Anthem, which was written by Burgie.
Margaret Bing-Wade, who babysat Burgie’s sons, Andrew and Irving Jr. in Hollis, Queens in 1962 was awestruck by the artist who held gigs at his home with then wife Page.
She and her mom, Minnie praised Burgie for his activism in the community and the humble way he remained throughout his famous life.
With an enduring memory and quick wit that captivated guests, Burgie was emotional when he spoke of the astronauts in space waking up to his “Day-O’” song, and chuckled as he sang his lyrics in German.
“I was a smart kid, I attended college,” he quipped, and remembered his brave service in WWII.
Known as Lord Burgess, he recalled meeting Harry Belafonte in 1955.
He later wrote 34 songs on five of Belafonte’s albums, in addition to “Islands in the Sun” for the movie of the same name.
He said he was proud to be a part of the Civil Rights movement, at the same time that Barbados became independent. “I was qualified to write the Barbados national anthem, and the lyrics and music for the Off Broadway show ‘Ballad for Bimshire” to celebrate his mother’s birthplace.
His music sold more than 100 million records throughout the world, and in 2006, celebrated the 50th anniversary of his most successful song, “Day-O.” It was also named Song Of The Century at the Annual Sunshine Awards.
This Juilliard School of Music, University of Arizona and the University of Southern California graduate, who was educated with the help of the G.I. Bill and who holds a doctor of humane letters degree from York College of the City University of New York, said he was happy to be alive.
The Hall Of Famer who wrote “The West Indian Song Book,” attributes his longevity to good genes, eating healthy and a regimen of exercise that includes daily swimming for the last 40 years.
A world traveler and frequent visitor to Barbados, Burgie sponsors the annual Irving Burgie Award For Excellence In Literary and Creative Arts for secondary school students, a scholarship which he founded in 1980.