The Lion Sleeps Tonight
|"The Lion Sleeps Tonight"|
|Single by the Tokens|
|from the album The Lion Sleeps Tonight|
|Producer(s)||Hugo & Luigi|
"The Lion Sleeps Tonight" is a song written and recorded originally by Solomon Linda with the Evening Birds 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 and '60s pop and folk revival artists, including 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 with the best-known version 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. The pop group Tight Fit had a number one hit in the UK with the song in 1982.
"Mbube" (Zulu for "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 the Evening Birds, a musical ensemble, and it was at Gallo Records, under the direction of producer Griffiths Motsieloa, that Linda and his fellow musicians recorded several songs including "Mbube," which incorporated 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 compelling about the underlying chant, a dense meshing of low male voices above which Solomon yodelled and howled for two exhilarating minutes, improvising occasionally. The third take was the best, achieving immortality 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.
Issued by Gallo as a 78-rpm record in 1939, and marketed to black audiences, "Mbube" became a hit and Linda a star throughout South Africa. By 1948, the song had sold over 100,000 copies in Africa and among black South African immigrants in Great Britain. Linda also lent its name to a style of African a cappella music that evolved into isicathamiya (also called mbube), popularized by Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
In 1949, Alan Lomax, then working as folk music director for Decca Records, brought Solomon Linda's 78 recording to the attention of his friend Pete Seeger of the folk group The Weavers. In November 1951, after having performed the song for at least a year in their concerts, The Weavers recorded an adapted version with brass and string orchestra and chorus and released it as a 78 single entitled "Wimoweh", a mishearing of the original song's chorus of "Uyimbube", Zulu: You are a lion. Their version contained the chanting chorus "Wimoweh" and Linda's improvised melodic line. The Weavers credited the song as "Traditional", with arrangement by "Paul Campbell", later found to be a pseudonym used by the Weavers in order to claim royalties. It reached Billboard's top ten and became a staple of The Weavers' live repertoire, achieving further exposure on their best-selling The Weavers at Carnegie Hall LP album, recorded in 1955 and issued in 1957. The song was also covered extensively by other folk revival groups such as The Kingston Trio, and exotica singer Yma Sumac. However, Miriam Makeba, in 1960, recorded the same song as "Mbube", with the writing credit given to "J. Linda".
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 version, before, during and after the soprano saxophone solo. "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" was issued by RCA in 1961, and it 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.
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 profits." 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.
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. 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.
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 Disney movie The Lion King alone. The piece prompted filmmaker François Verster to create the Emmy-winning documentary A Lion's Trail, that told Linda's story while incidentally exposing the workings of the multi-million dollar corporate music publishing industry.
In July 2004, as a result of the publicity generated by Malan's article and the subsequent documentary, the song became the subject of a lawsuit between 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. 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.
Selected list of recorded versions
The song has been recorded by numerous artists, and is a standard that has become a part of popular culture.
- 1939 Solomon Linda and the Evening Birds
- 1951 In the first film adaptation of Cry, the Beloved Country
- 1960 Miriam Makeba, on Miriam Makeba
- 1988 Ladysmith Black Mambazo, as "Mbube", during opening sequence of movie Coming to America (but not on the soundtrack album)
- 1991 The Elite Swingsters Featuring Dolly Rathebe, as "Mbube" on Woza!
- 1994 Ladysmith Black Mambazo, as "Mbube (The Lion Sleeps Tonight)", on Gift of the Tortoise
- 1996 Soweto String Quartet, as "Imbube" on Renaissance
- 2005 Soweto Gospel Choir, as "Imbube" on Blessed
- 2006 Ladysmith Black Mambazo, as "Mbube", on Long Walk to Freedom
- 2007 CH2 and Soweto String Quartet, as "Imbube" on Pap & Paella
- 2010 Angélique Kidjo, as "Mbube" on Õÿö
- 1952: The Weavers: US #6
- 1952: Jimmy Dorsey
- 1952: Yma Sumac
- 1957: The Weavers, live.
- 1959: Bill Hayes (on Kapp Records)
- 1959: The Kingston Trio
- 1961: Karl Denver: UK #4
- 1962: Bert Kaempfert on album A Swingin' Safari, (on Polydor Records). Done mostly as an instrumental save for the "Wimoweh" chorus.
- 1962: Hugh Masekela on Trumpet Africaine
- 1964: Glen Campbell on The Astounding 12-String Guitar of Glen Campbell
- 1964: Chet Atkins
- 1971: Rumplestiltskin on Black Magician
- 1993: Nanci Griffith with Odetta, on Other Voices, Other Rooms
- 1994: Roger Whittaker, on Roger Whittaker Live!
- 1994: Manu Dibango and Ladysmith Black Mambazo, on Waka Afrika
- 1998: Pete Seeger on For Kids And Just Plain Folks
- 1999: Desmond Dekker on Halfway To Paradise
"The Lion Sleeps Tonight"
|"The Lion Sleeps Tonight"|
Single picture sleeve
|Single by Robert John|
|from the album Robert John|
|"The Lion Sleeps Tonight"|
Single picture sleeve
|Single by Tight Fit|
|from the album Tight Fit|
|Tight Fit singles chronology|
- 1961: The Tokens: US #1, UK #11
- 1962: Henri Salvador – in French as "Le lion est mort ce soir" ("The Lion Died Tonight") FR #1
- 1965: The New Christy Minstrels
- 1965: The Shangaans, on "Jungle Drums"
- 1968: The Tremeloes, on Silence Is Golden
- 1971: Eric Donaldson
- 1972: Robert John: US #3, gold record.
- 1972: Dave Newman: UK #34
- 1974: Ras Michael and the Sons of Negus, as "Rise Jah Jah Children (The Lion Sleeps)"
- 1975: Brian Eno, on single, later on Working Backwards: 1983-1973 and Eno Box II: Vocal
- 1979: The Stylistics
- 1980: Passengers
- 1982: Tight Fit: UK #1, This version has sold over a million copies in the UK.
- 1982: The Nylons
- 1987: Tracey Ullman et. al. on the skit "City of Strangers" from The Tracey Ullman Show
- 1989: Sandra Bernhard
- 1991: Hotline & P.J. Powers, on The Best Of
- 1992: Talisman, on A Capella
- 1992: They Might Be Giants with Laura Cantrell, interpolated into "The Guitar (The Lion Sleeps Tonight)"
- 1993: Pow woW: FR #1, cover of Salvador's version.
- 1993: R.E.M.: B-side of "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite" and on The Automatic Box (Disc 3).
- 1993: The Nylons
- 1994: Dennis Marcellino
- 1994: Tonic Sol-Fa
- 1995: Lebo M. for Rhythm of the Pride Lands, an album with songs inspired by the music of The Lion King
- 1997: 'N Sync: B-side of "For the Girl Who Has Everything"
- 1997: The Muppets, on an episode of Muppets Tonight
- 1998: Helmut Lotti, on Out of Africa
- 1998: The Undertones, on 8 Degrees and Rising
- 1990s: The Streetnix
- 2001: Baha Men featuring Imani Coppola, sampled the chorus in the song "You All Dat" on Who Let the Dogs Out
- 2001: Rockapella
- 2002: Mango Groove, on Eat a Mango
- 2004: Daniel Küblböck
- 2005: The Mavericks
- 2009: Melo-M, on Around the World
- 2010: Cool Down Cafe featuring Gerard Joling, on Goud
- 2014: Billy Joel and Jimmy Fallon, on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon
- 2015: Justin Fletcher as Gail Force on Gigglebiz
- 2016: Tight Fit new production Rainforest Radio Edit on Together (Almighty)
- 2016: Mayunga featuring Akon sampled the chorus in their single "Please Don't Go Away"
|UK Singles Charts||1|
|Ö3 Austria Top 40||8|
|Belgian Ultratop 50||1|
|German Media Control Charts||3|
|Danish Singles Charts||1|
|Dutch Singles Charts||1|
|Irish Singles Charts||1|
|New Zealand Singles Charts||3|
|Swedish Sverigetopplistan Charts||17|
|Swiss Ultratop Charts||8|
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- Cad, Saint. "Top 10 Famous Songs With Unknown Originals". listverse.com. Retrieved 21 June 2013.
- Frith, Simon (2004). Popular music: critical concepts in media and cultural studies, Volume 4. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-33270-5.
- David Hutcheon, "The Story Behind the Song: The Lion Sleeps Tonight", Mojo '60s, #9, 2017, pp.18-19
- "Show 18 - Blowin' in the Wind: Pop discovers folk music. [Part 1]". Pop Chronicles. UNT Digital Library. 18 May 1969. Retrieved 24 September 2010.
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- "3rd Ear Music Forum - Mbube - Mickey Mouse Under House Arrest in SAfrica?". 3rdearmusic.com. Retrieved 29 March 2014.
- Blair, David (30 October 2004). "Penniless singer's family sue Disney for Lion King royalties". The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group. Retrieved 1 July 2017.
- "It's a Lawsuit, a Mighty Lawsuit". 25 October 2004. Retrieved 14 February 2007.
- "The Lion Sleeps Tonight 1939 : Linda Solomon, The Evening Birds". Archive.org. Retrieved 29 March 2014.
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- Sedghi, Ami (4 November 2012). "UK's million-selling singles: the full list". The Guardian. Retrieved 4 November 2012.
- "Billy Joel and Jimmy Fallon Form 2-Man Doo-Wop Group Using iPad App". The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. YouTube. 20 March 2014.
- "Tight Fit — Together — Almighty Records". www.almightyrecords.com. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
- "Ultratop.be – The Tokens – The Lion Sleeps Tonight" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50. Retrieved June 15, 2018.
- "Ultratop.be – The Tokens – The Lion Sleeps Tonight" (in French). Ultratop 50. Retrieved June 15, 2018.
- "Musicline.de – The Tokens Single-Chartverfolgung" (in German). Media Control Charts. PhonoNet GmbH. Retrieved June 15, 2018.
- Flavour of New Zealand, 15 March 1962
- "Tokens: Artist Chart History". Official Charts Company. Retrieved June 15, 2018.
- "The Tokens Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard. Retrieved June 15, 2018.
- "The Tokens Chart History (Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs)". Billboard. Retrieved June 15, 2018.
- http://tropicalglen.com/Archives/70s_files/1962YESP.html Cash Box Year-End Charts: Top 100 Pop Singles, December 29, 1962
- Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970-1992. St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
- "Cash Box Top 100 3/18/72". tropicalglen.com. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
- "Top 100 Hits of 1972/Top 100 Songs of 1972". musicoutfitters.com. Retrieved 1 December 2017.
- http://tropicalglen.com/Archives/70s_files/1972YESP.html Cash Box Year-End Charts: Top 100 Pop Singles, December 30, 1972
- Solomon Linda, Songwriter Who Penned ‘The Lion,’ Finally Gets His Just Desserts
- Sample of Mbube performed by Solomon Linda's Original Evening Birds (WMA Stream).
- NPR: All Things Considered: Family of 'Lion Sleeps Tonight' Writer to Get Millions
- Telegraph: Penniless singer's family sue Disney for Lion King royalties
- The Lion Sleeps Tonight. BBC World Service Documentary by Paul Gambaccini first broadcast 16 July 2010