Things that Matter: Irving Burgie – Firm Craftsman of our Fate


Irving Burgie – Firm Craftsman of our Fate


Anthem definition: A rousing or uplifting song identified with a particular group, body, or cause. 

National anthem: A solemn patriotic song officially adopted by a country as an expression of national identity … or: A song that praises a particular country and is officially accepted as the country’s song ... or: \o “Patriotism” A patriotic musical composition that evokes and eulogises the history, traditions and struggles of its people, recognised either by a nation’s \o “Government” government as the official national \o “Song” song, or by \o “Convention (norm)” convention through use by the people.  


Before Independence, Bajans were familiar with the British National Anthem, but few knew the words beyond the first three lines, which are all about the sovereign: 


God save our gracious Queen!

Long live our noble Queen!

God save the Queen!


After Independence, Bajans of school age all learnt and sang our own National Anthem at school. I only learnt the magnificent words and started singing it when I was invited by the Rotary Club of Barbados South to become an Honorary Rotarian, as it’s sung with passion and gusto at every Rotary lunch. And what’s so different from God save the Queen is that it’s all about us, the people, not the leader!


I simply have to admit that it’s become my favourite song and my favourite music, and I’m absolutely moved and inspired every time I sing it. That’s why I’ve made it a mission of mine to try to have everyone sing it every time it’s played, instead of standing like dummies while it’s played – often with a poor recording – instead of singing passionately and getting goose bumps! 


First, a few facts about our inspiring anthem. Those magnificent words were written by one of the greatest song writers alive today, and certainly the greatest to come out of the West Indies, with West Indian genesA. This hero of mine is Irving Burgie -  better known as Lord Burgess - an American born in Brooklyn (commonly called the 31st constituency of Barbados), son of a Barbadian mother. His father was from \o “Virginia” Virginia. He’s best known in the Caribbean for the song \o “Jamaica Farewell” Jamaica Farewell", sung by \o “Harry Belafonte” Harry Belafonte, and he wrote some 35 songs for \o “Harry Belafonte” him. Songs he wrote have sold more than 100 million copies worldwide. He wrote our National Anthem in 1966. But he may be best known globally for Banana Boat Song, or Day-O. And his autobiography DAY-O!!! is compulsive reading! 


But back to our anthem. Coupling his genius and skill with words and lyrics with his love for Barbados, Irving Burgie created a brilliant, inspiring, uplifting anthem, which must surely create more goose bumps per person singing it than any other national anthem in the world!


The music for the anthem was composed by Mr. C. Van Roland Edwards, a Speightstonian, who is memorialised in the Roland Edwards Primary School in St. Peter. The music was rearranged by Prince Cave, conductor of our Police Band, in what is known as the instrumental version. Sadly, this more complex version deters people from singing.

Irving Burgie maintains a close relationship with his mother-country Barbados, and thanks to the vision of James Wilson of Downes and Wilson Funeral Home, he made two recent appearances to inspire us all to sing the anthem. First he spoke at a recorded breakfast at the Hilton, and then attended a splendid function at the Eagle Hall Primary School on May 17th. This “Tribute to Irving Burgie” was organised by Mr. Wilson, a former pupil of Eagle Hall, and the Principal Mr. Orlando Jones. Naturally there was much fine singing, and the anthem was sung – superbly - by all the students, and all of the audience! Other performers sang Burgie songs, and I was particularly impressed by the quality of the school’s “singing teachers” – especially Ms. Gillian Cadogan, who sang my other favourite song ‘Island in the Sun’.


Minister of Foreign Affairs, Maxine McClean, in her remarks, said “As I sang it I was reminded of the power of the words”, and Mr. Burgie, in his remarks, said: “This is a milestone in the promotion of the singing of the anthem”, while James Wilson said: “Sing it – sing it – sing it with pride!” 


As I wrote in a column a couple of years ago, when I started this mission, the words evoke and eulogise our history and our struggles, from the opening couplet “In plenty and in time of need, when this fair land was young” to the second verse: “For past three hundred years”. He inspires us with the assurance of the Lord as our guide; he recognises our freedom with Independence; he proclaims our goals, as “we write our names on history’s page, with expectations great”; and he charges us to be “strict guardians of our heritage, firm craftsmen of our fate”; and we conclude, although we rarely sing it but I hope we think it, with the confidence that “With Him still on the people’s side we have no doubts or fears; and “inspired, exulting, free, and greater will our nation grow, in strength and unity.” His themes flow seamlessly and beautifully, in perfect couplets, from the ancient past to the inspired future. 


May we sing it every time, and live those magnificent words in our hearts every day. Thank you, Irving Burgie.


A big thank you: To all those praying for rain, and all those who’ve been doing rain dances … I recorded 2.6 inches (66 mm) in my rain gauge overnight on Friday! Hopefully it will make a difference …


(Professor Fraser is past Dean of Medical Sciences, UWI and Professor Emeritus of Medicine. Website:

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