First recorded (as “Day Dah Light”) by Edric Conner & The Caribbeans (1952).
Hit versions by The Tarriers (US #4/R&B #14/UK #15 1956), Sarah Vaughn (US #19 1956), Harry Belafonte (US #5/R&B #7/UK #2 1956), The Fontane Sisters (US #13 1957).
From the wiki: “‘Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)’ was originally a Jamaican folk song of unknown title. It was thought to be sung by Jamaican banana workers, with a repeated melody and refrain (call and response); with each set lyric there would be a response from the workers but using many different sets of lyrics, some possibly improvised on the spot.
“The first known recorded version was accomplished by Trinidadian singer Edric Connor and his band ‘Edric Connor & The Caribbeans’ in 1952, on the album Songs From Jamaica where the song was titled ‘Day Dah Light’. Despite the song’s mento influences, ‘Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)’ is widely known as an example of reggae music. It was a work song, sung from the point of view of dockhands working the night shift loading bananas onto cargo ships. Daylight has come, the shift is over and they want their work to be counted up so that they can go home.
“Edric Connor was born in 1913 in Mayaro, Trinidad and settled in England in 1944, making his debut on BBC radio two weeks later in Calling the West Indies. In 1951 he was responsible for bringing the Trinidad All Steel Percussion Orchestra – TASPO – to the Festival of Britain. In 1955, Connor recorded the first Manchester United Football Club song, ‘The Manchester United Calypso’. In 1958 he became the first black actor to perform for the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford, playing Gower in Pericles, having been recommended for the role by Paul Robeson. Connor also acted in a total of 18 films and was best noted for his role as Daggoo in the movie Moby Dick.
“In 1955, a Barbadian, Irving Burgie, and William Attaway wrote a version of ‘The Banana Boat Song’ for the Colgate Comedy Hour in which the song was performed by Harry Belafonte. This is the version that is by far the best known to listeners today. Released in 1956, it reached #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1957 and later became Belafonte’s signature song.
“Other charted versions of the song were also released in 1956 alongside Belafonte’s recording by folk group The Tarriers (of which actor Alan Arkin was then a member), who had been taught the song by influential folk singer Bob Gibson (who had himself discovered the Conner song while visiting Jamaica), and by Sarah Vaughn who based her arrangement on the Tarriers’ recording – as did the Fontane Sisters in 1957 with their charted recording.”
The Tarriers, “The Banana Boat Song” (1956):
Sarah Vaughn, “The Banana Boat Song” (1956):
Harry Belafonte, “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” (1957):
The Fontane Sisters, “The Banana Boat Song” (1957):