THE EDITOR: I extend my condolences to the people of Barbados and the family of Irving Burgie, aka Lord Burgess, who died on November 29.
Born of a Barbadian mother and African-American father, he wrote the lyrics of Barbados’ national anthem, In Plenty and In Time of Need.
Prime Minister Mia Mottley announced his death and asked for a moment of silence for him on Saturday at the parade for Barbados’ 53rd anniversary of independence.
In turn I respectfully ask for a moment’s silence in remembrance of three of TT’s deceased composers/calypsonians and folk singers. They are Edric Connor, Pat Castagne and Lord Melody (Fitzroy Alexander). I want them to be permanently honoured and memorialised in a national audio-visual archive.
Barbados as a part of the federation was supposed to have accepted the West Indian federal anthem, Forged from the Love of Liberty, composed by Pat Castagne. It is now TT’s national anthem.
The current Barbadian anthem was written as Barbados moved toward full independence and the song was then adopted by Barbados as it became self-governing in 1966.
You see, when I heard the news of his passing the announcer on the BBC World Service mentioned Burgie’s composition of the Barbadian anthem but he also placed Burgie in the orbit of Harry Belafonte’s phenomenal album Calypso which was the first LP to sell one million copies and which included the so-called Banana Boat song Day-O.
Burgie is credited with altering, not composing, this Jamaican folk song, giving Belafonte a very prominent position in world music. Burgie, writing as Lord Burgess, composed/adapted eight of the songs on Belafonte’s 1956 album.
Burgie described Day-O as “a song about struggle, about black people in a colonised life doing the most gruelling work.” He also said a “lot of my work is based on songs and ditties that I’ve heard in the Caribbean.”
What is revealing as well is that it was the Trinidadian singer, Edric Connor, with The Caribbeans and Earl Inkman, pianist, who first recorded the Banana Boat song (Day Dah Light) in 1952. It is on an album entitled Songs from Jamaica (UK, Argo RG 33), collected and arranged by Tom Murray. That recording can be found on You Tube.
Belafonte’s version came out in 1956.
Belafonte also recorded Lord Melody’s compositions Boo Boo Man (“Mama Look Ah Boo Boo”) which became a top 20 hit in the US in 1957, Sweetheart from Venezuela (“Juanita”) and Shame and Scandal. Sometime from the 60s to the 70s Melody was in New York touring with Belafonte, to whom he was contracted to compose.
Herein lies the problem. Burgie became a very wealthy man. Belafonte remains a wealthy man. Both have their reputations intact. There is much that can be said concerning them. About the ultimate financial circumstances of Pat Castagne and Edric Connor I will have to do more research, though their names are well known. However, I know that before Melody died in 1988, he was destitute.
I remember Winston Maynard moderated a radiothon to raise money for him and for hours no money was offered until the National Action Cultural Committee, the cultural arm of the National Joint Action Committee, made the first pledge of $1,000.
I certainly share the pride that Barbados has in Burgie as I share the pride that we should feel for Belafonte. Both established calypso as well as other Caribbean folk songs as prominent fixtures in world music, but TT needs to spare time to reflect on people like Castagne, Connor and Melody.
We have to place them in an audio-visual archive. I recommended its name several months ago, the Enos Sewlal National Audio-Visual Archive in honour of the first official archivist of this country.