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191209 December 9, 2019


    NEW YORK — Composer Irving Burgie, who helped popularize Caribbean music and co-wrote the enduring Harry Belafonte hit “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song),” has died at the age of 95.

    “Day-O,” written in 1952, has been ubiquitous, appearing in everything from the film and Broadway musical “Beetlejuice” to an E-Trade commercial. “Day-O” was also the wake-up call for the astronauts on two Space Shuttle missions in the 1990s. When a superstar list of music royalty gathered to film the “We Are the World” video in 1985, most burst into a playful version of “Day-O” in between takes. 

    According to the Songwriters Hall of Fame, Burgie’s songs have sold over 100 million records throughout the world. Many were recorded by Belafonte, including eight of the 11 songs on Belafonte’s 1956 album, “Calypso,” the first album to sell over 1 million copies in the U.S. Burgie also penned songs for the Kingston Trio (“The Seine,” “El Matador,” and “The Wanderer”) and for other groups.

        You might wonder why I elected to feature a story this week about a guy you probably never heard about.  Honestly I did not know anything about him myself until Wednesday when Sue read me his obituary during our normal morning coffee gathering, but I felt a connection with him. 

    Most of us remember his “Day-O” song, if for no other reason than it being featured in “Beetlejuice”. But my memories are connected to one of the other songs he wrote - one done by The Kingston Trio. The song “The Seine” never reached the popularity of many of the other songs done by that group, but for some odd reason it became a favorite one of mine when I was a student at Lee. I now feel it is such an odd song to come from the man who is best known for his Calypso tunes.

    I would venture to guess one of the reasons I was drawn to it was because it had a simple melody which only used a few chords (C, Am7, Dm7, G) and I was able to play it on my guitar. But, the song spoke to me. This was the height of the folk song era for my generation and I had a great desire to become a folk musician. I received a guitar for Christmas back then. It was a present from my aunt and was bought at Sears. I and the members of my Scout troop would always sing folk songs around the campfire when we went camping. I remember “The Seine” was one of those songs, and I seem to remember singing it with Jim Ramsey from Lee and with Pete Goodwin from Huntsville High. 

    My association with Jim was not only with the Boy Scouts but also the French Club at Lee, organized by Mrs. Broom, the French teacher. I can’t remember where we got them but Jim and I both bought black berets and I vividly remember on one of our camping trips on Monte Sano we both put them on and started conversing in our best high school French. It was at the old ruins of the Monte Sano inn and some other visitors were walking around it and we though we were being so funny trying to be Frenchmen without letting them know we were just local yokels. 

    But back to the song memories. The words of “The Seine” really spoke to me in my puberty teenage mind. The idea of walking around alone in Paris and meeting someone and sharing a brief one-night love encounter with memories which would last a lifetime was mesmerizing. At the time I was living in Lincoln Village, unaware I was actually living in an area most people would call "The Projects." I was poor but happy, and the idea I would ever visit Paris was unheard of. Still, the song appealed to me in a very mysterious manner.

 This turned out to be one of my favorite love songs of my youth, even though very few others seemed to know it even existed. After I graduated from Lee and moved to Memphis I would often sit in my lonely bedroom and sing it over and over as I played the simple chords on my prized guitar. That was 1964.


 The Seine by Irving Burgess

One night along the river 

at St. Germain de Pre, 

I first met my beloved 

at a small sidewalk café.

We walked along the river, 

the shadows passing by 

but we only saw each other, 

the shining water and the sky.


The Seine, the Seine, when will I again 

meet her there, greet her there 

on the moonlit banks of the Seine?

Standing there across the river, 

mid sound of horn and tram, 

in all her quiet beauty, 

the cathedral Notre Dame,

And as we passed beside her, 

I said a little prayer 

that when this dream was over, 

I'd awake and find you there.


We walked along the river, 

'till dawn was coming nigh. 

Beneath the Eiffel Tower 

we said our last good-bye.

There on that splendid morning, 

I left you all in tears 

and the beauty of that hour 

will shine within me through the years



   Fast forward to 1986, 22 years later, and change the scene from a smokey campfire on the mountain to across the Atlantic Ocean and to the City of Light - Paris. I finally found myself actually walking along the banks of The Seine and of course the chorus of the song of my youth is echoing inside my head. My mind teleports me back to those lonely days in my life and it felt to me fate had been planning my visit to Paris all those years between. This was destiny, but that is not the punch line of this story.

    Back in my Scouting days I only had one girlfriend, and we traveled a rocky road, often breaking up and then getting back together again. Still, she was my first girlfriend and the only one I really cared about at the time.

    As I walked along the banks of the Seine in Paris in 1986 I was accompanied by my wife at the time and our daughter. My mind was still locked in on the earlier days when I first sang the song and the people I associated with the song’s message back then. I looked up and my heart stopped. Walking toward me was the face of my old girlfriend. Of course it was not her, because this was the face of her when she was 16 years old and at the time she would have been 38 years old. I had not seen her in over 20 years but the face walking toward me was the face I remembered. I often wonder if the person I saw actually looked like her or did my mind play a trick on me. Whatever the reason, I felt I was seeing my old girlfriend.

    A funny feeling came upon me and my face probably turned red, for it seemed at the time I was cheating on my wife - seeing the first girlfriend and remembering the times we spent together.

    To me, at the time,I thought back and felt the song had been a seed planted and had been destined to grow to maturity at that moment of my life. The song, the trip to Paris, the old girlfriend memories, and now the face walking toward me. I cannot adequately describe the emotions which came over me at that moment. My mind kept recalling the verse “There on that splendid moment, I left her all in tears, and the beauty of that hour, will shine within me through the years.”

    So are the memories of a person in an old man’s body but with the emotions of a teenager.  Strange things happen in this world. Thanks for reading.


        Memphis, TN -