The Banana Boat Song (Day-O)
Writer(s): traditional, arranged: Harry Belafonte, William Attaway, Lord Burgess (see lyrics here)
First Charted: January 12, 1957
Peak: 5 US, 11 HP, 3 CB, 2 HR, 7 RB, 2 UK, 1 DF (Click for codes to charts.)
Sales (in millions): 1.0 US
Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 1.0 radio, 57.2 video, 116.51 streaming
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About the Song:
The music of “The Banana Boat Song” is “so light and airy” LS that it is easy to overlook that lyrically it is about hired people or even slaves being overworked. They will “do everything possible to earn money and feed their families.” LS Dock workers are loading bananas on a ship. They do the work at night to avoid the hot, tropical, daytime sun. LS They also sing to develop cohesive teamwork.
Trinidadian singer Edric Connor was the first to record the Jamaican folk song (originally known as “Day Dah Light”) in 1932. LS In 1954, Jamaican singer Louise Bennett recorded the song. LS The Tarriers recorded the song in 1956 and took it to #4.
Harry Belafonte also recorded the song in 1956 as part of his Calypso album. It was very different from his “folk-based debut.” TB He recorded it as a tribute to his childhood and the Caribbean musical style. LS He was born in Harlem, New York, but at eight years old, his family returned to Jamaica, his mother’s homeland, for five years. LS His timing was perfect – by the end of 1957, calypso music accounted for 25% of all American record sales. TB
He specifically chose “The Banana Boat Song” because of the stereotypes at the time that people in the Caribbean were “lazy, constantly drinking rum, and having sex” LS so he wanted to sing “a classic work song about a man who works all night for the equivalent of a sip of beer.” LS
The song gained another measure of fame when it was used in the 1988 film Beetlejuice. It has also become popular to sing at baseball games. SS
First posted 3/25/2023.