The Lion Sleeps Tonight

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"The Lion Sleeps Tonight"
Single by The Tokens
from the album The Lion Sleeps Tonight
A-side "Tina"
Released 1961
Genre Rhythm and blues, doo-wop, world
Length 2:41
Label RCA
Writer(s) Solomon Linda
Hugo Peretti
Luigi Creatore
George David Weiss
Albert Stanton
Audio sample
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"The Lion Sleeps Tonight", also known as "Wimoweh", "Wimba Way" or "Awimbawe", is a song written and recorded by Solomon Linda with the Evening Birds[1] for the South African Gallo Record Company in 1939, under the title "Mbube". Composed in Zulu, it was adapted and covered internationally by many 1950s pop and folk revival artists, including Pete Seeger, the Weavers, Jimmy Dorsey, Yma Sumac, Miriam Makeba and the Kingston Trio. In 1961, it became a number one hit in the United States as adapted in English by the doo-wop group the Tokens. It went on to earn at least US$15 million in royalties from cover versions and film licensing.

In the mid-nineties, it became a pop "supernova" when licensed to Walt Disney for use in the film The Lion King, its spin-off TV series and live musical, prompting a lawsuit in 2004, on behalf of the descendants of Solomon Linda.

History[edit]

"Mbube" (Zulu: lion) was written in the 1920s, by Solomon Linda, a South African singer of Zulu origin, who later worked for the Gallo Record Company in Johannesburg, as a cleaner and record packer. He spent his weekends performing with a music group, the Evening Birds, and it was at Gallo Records, under the direction of black producer Griffiths Motsieloa, that Linda and his fellow musicians recorded several songs including "Mbube," incorporating a call-response pattern common among many Sub-Saharan African ethnic groups, including the Zulu.

According to journalist Rian Malan:

"Mbube" wasn't the most remarkable tune, but there was something terribly compelling about the underlying chant, a dense meshing of low male voices above which Solomon yodelled and howled for two exhilarating minutes, occasionally making it up as he went along. The third take was the great one, but it achieved immortality only in its dying seconds, when Solly took a deep breath, opened his mouth and improvised the melody that the world now associates with these words:

In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight.[1]

Issued by Gallo as a 78 recording in 1939,[2] and marketed to black audiences, "Mbube" became a hit and Linda a star throughout South Africa. By 1948, the song had sold 100,000 copies in Africa and among black South African immigrants in Great Britain, and had lent its name to a style of African a cappella music that evolved into isicathamiya (also called mbube), popularized by Ladysmith Black Mambazo.[3]

In 1961, two RCA records producers, Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore, hired Juilliard-trained musician and lyricist George David Weiss to arrange a pop music cover of "Wimoweh", for the B-side of a 45-rpm single called "Tina," sung by the teenage doo-wop group The Tokens. Weiss wrote the English lyrics: "In the jungle, the mighty jungle, The lion sleeps tonight..." and "Hush, my darling, don't fear, my darling..."

Weiss also brought in soprano Anita Darian to reprise Yma Sumac's Exotica version, before, during and after the saxophone solo.[4] Issued by RCA in 1961, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" rocketed to number one on the Billboard Hot 100. Weiss' Abilene Music Inc., was the publisher of this arrangement, and listed "Albert Stanton" (a pseudonym for Al Brackman, the business partner of Pete Seeger's music publisher, Howie Richmond), as one of the song's writers or arrangers.

Copyright issues[edit]

Social historian Ronald D. Cohen writes, "Howie Richmond copyrighted many songs originally in the public domain [sic] but now slightly revised to satisfy Decca and also to reap the profits."[5] Canadian writer Mark Steyn, on the other hand, attributes the invention of the pseudonym "Paul Campbell" to Pete Seeger. Howie Richmond's claim of author's copyright could secure both the songwriter's royalties and his company's publishing share of the song's earnings.[1]

Although Linda was listed as a performer on the record itself, the Weavers thought he had recorded a traditional Zulu song. Their managers, publisher, and their attorneys knew otherwise because they had been contacted by—and had reached an agreement with—Eric Gallo of Gallo Records in South Africa. The Americans maintained, however, that South African copyrights were not valid because South Africa was not a signatory to U.S. copyright law.[1] In the 1950s, after Linda's authorship was made clear, Seeger sent Linda $1000. Seeger also instructed TRO/Folkways to henceforth pay his share of authors' earnings to Linda. The folksinger apparently trusted his publisher's word of honor and either saw no need, or was unable to make sure these instructions were carried out.[1]

In 2000, South African journalist Rian Malan wrote a feature article for Rolling Stone magazine in which he recounted Linda's story and estimated that the song had earned $15 million for its use in the movie The Lion King alone. The piece prompted filmmaker François Verster to create the Emmy-winning documentary A Lion's Trail (2002) that told Linda's story while incidentally exposing the workings of the multi-million dollar corporate music publishing industry.[6]

In July 2004, as a result of the publicity generated by Malan's Rolling Stone article and the subsequent filmed documentary, the song became the subject of a lawsuit between Solomon Linda's estate and Disney, claiming that Disney owed $1.6 million in royalties for the use of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" in the film and musical stage productions of The Lion King.[7] At the same time, the Richmond Organization began to pay $3,000 annually into Linda's estate. In February 2006, Linda's descendants reached a legal settlement with Abilene Music Publishers, who held the worldwide rights and had licensed the song to Disney, to place the earnings of the song in a trust.[8][9]

Selected list of recorded versions[edit]

"Mbube"[edit]

"Wimoweh"[edit]

"The Lion Sleeps Tonight"[edit]

"The Lion Sleeps Tonight"
The Lion Sleeps Tonight
Single by Tight Fit
from the album Tight Fit
Released January 1982
Genre Pop
Length 3:18
Label Jive
Writer(s) Hugo Peretti
Luigi Creatore
George David Weiss
Albert Stanton
Solomon Linda
Producer(s) Tim Friese-Greene[11]
Certification Gold
Tight Fit singles chronology
"Back to the Sixties Part II"
(1981)
"The Lion Sleeps Tonight"
(1982)
"Fantasy Island"
(1982)

Charted singles[edit]

The Tokens[edit]

Chart (1961) Peak
position
US Billboard Top 100 Singles 1
US Billboard R&B Singles 7
Australia Kent Music Report 15
Belgian Ultratop 50 6
German Media Control Charts 23
U.K. Singles Charts 11

Robert John[edit]

Chart (1972) Peak
position
US Billboard Top 100 Singles 3
US Billboard Adult Contemporary 6
Canadian RPM Top Tracks 15
Canadian RPM Adult Contemporary 17
German Singles Charts 40

Tight Fit[edit]

Chart (1982) Peak
position
U.K. Singles Charts 1
Ö3 Austria Top 40 8
Belgian Ultratop 50 1
German Media Control Charts 3
Dutch Singles Charts 1
Irish Singles Charts 1
New Zealand Singles Charts 3
Swedish Sverigetopplistan Charts 17
Swiss Ultratop Charts 8

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e Malan, Rian. "In the Jungle". Longform.org. Retrieved 2015-04-23. 
  2. ^ Cad, Saint. "Top 10 Famous Songs With Unknown Originals". listverse.com. Retrieved 21 June 2013. 
  3. ^ Frith, Simon, Popular music: critical concepts in media and cultural studies, Volume 4], London : Routledge, 2004. ISBN 978-0-415-33270-5.
  4. ^ "Show 18 - Blowin' in the Wind: Pop discovers folk music. [Part 1] : UNT Digital Library". Pop Chronicles. Digital.library.unt.edu. 18 May 1969. Retrieved 24 September 2010. 
  5. ^ Ronald D. Cohen, Rainbow Quest: the Folk Music Revival and American Society (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2002), page 71.
  6. ^ "National Television Academy Presents 27th Annual News & Documentary Emmy Awards" (press release), September 25, 2006.
  7. ^ "3rd Ear Music Forum - Mbube - Mickey Mouse Under House Arrest in SAfrica?". 3rdearmusic.com. Retrieved 2014-03-29. 
  8. ^ "Penniless singer's family sue Disney for Lion King royalties". 
  9. ^ "It's a Lawsuit, a Mighty Lawsuit". 25 October 2004. Retrieved 14 February 2007. 
  10. ^ "The Lion Sleeps Tonight 1939 : Linda Solomon, The Evening Birds". Archive.org. Retrieved 2014-03-29. 
  11. ^ Rice, Jo (1982). The Guinness Book of 500 Number One Hits (1st ed.). Enfield, Middlesex: Guinness Superlatives Ltd. p. 222. ISBN 0-85112-250-7. 
  12. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 406. ISBN 1-904994-10-5. 
  13. ^ Ami Sedghi (4 November 2012). "UK's million-selling singles: the full list". Guardian. Retrieved 4 November 2012. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
"Please Mr. Postman" by The Marvelettes
Billboard Hot 100 number one single (The Tokens version)
December 18, 1961 (three weeks)
Succeeded by
"The Twist" by Chubby Checker
Preceded by
"Town Called Malice" by The Jam
UK Singles Chart number one single (Tight Fit version)
28 February 1982 - 20 March 1982
Succeeded by
"Seven Tears" by Goombay Dance Band