As you enter the Afrikan Poetry Theatre, there is a table lined with bagels, muffins, fruit, coffee and orange juice. Irving Burgie, composer of Harry Belafonte’s music, sits in front of the room. He looks up as he reminisces about his musical career.
“I was quite a poet and a lyricist,” said Burgie. Writer of the hit song “Day-O,” Burgie will be one of the honorees at the Afrikan Poetry Theatre’s Grand Ball on Nov. 5 as they celebrate their 35th year of serving the state of New York. “I did my first song in 1955, and here it is 2011 and it’s still around-I love it.”
Burgie also discussed how hip-hop recording artist Lil Wayne sampled his song “Day-O” in his song “6 Foot 7 Foot,” and how Jason Derulo sampled it in his song “Don’t Wanna Go Home.”
“So things are poppin’,” said Burgie with a chuckle before talking about how he’s been living off his royalties for 55 years. “I own 40 percent of Lil Wayne’s ‘6 Foot 7 Foot.’”
According to Burgie, it’s very important for artists to get their songs protected. “All of my songs were protected by copyright, so there really wasn’t anything anybody could do except perform my songs,” he said.
Belafonte got all the women, according to Burgie. “Women were crazy about Harry. He was 6-foot-2 and I was 5-foot-6, so I decided to let him run with it,” said Burgie, laughing to himself. “Women thought he was the best looking.”
Discussing the difference between writing and performing, Burgie said, “There’s not a lot of people who write songs and can perform them. I’m one of the few people who can do both.”
The arts are important in education, according to Burgie. “You can’t separate art from anything,” he says. During this economic turmoil, much of the art curriculum has been removed from schools. “Particularly among Black people, [art is] one of the things that keeps us going.”
When asked what inspired him to write music, he said that there really wasn’t a particular formula that inspired him to write his music. However, Burgie did go on to explain that there is a bit of a luck factor involved in anything that you do, particularly in the arts. “You’ve got to have the right stuff.”