The Lion Sleeps Tonight

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"The Lion Sleeps Tonight"
Single by the Tokens
from the album The Lion Sleeps Tonight
LabelRCA Victor
The Lion Sleeps Tonight (Wimoweh) (Audio) on YouTube

"The Lion Sleeps Tonight" is a song originally written and recorded by Solomon Linda[2] under the title "Mbube"[3] for the South African Gallo Record Company in 1939. Linda's original was written in Zulu, while the English version's lyrics were written by George David Weiss.

The song has been adapted and covered internationally by many pop and folk artists. It was recorded as "Wimoweh" by the Weavers in November 1951, and published by Folkways Music Publishers in December 1951.[4] Artists who have recorded various versions of the song include R.E.M., NSYNC, Henri Salvador, Karl Denver, Jimmy Dorsey, Yma Sumac, Noro Morales, Miriam Makeba, and the Kingston Trio.[5]

In 1961, a version adapted into English with the title "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" by the doo-wop group The Tokens became a number-one hit in the United States. It went on to earn millions 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. This song is written and composed in the key of F major.


"Mbube" (Zulu for "lion") was written by Solomon Linda,[6] a South African Zulu singer, who 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.[2]

Issued by Gallo as a 78-rpm phonograph record in 1939,[7] 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's song also gave the name to a style of African a cappella music that evolved into isicathamiya (also called mbube), popularized by Ladysmith Black Mambazo.[8]

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 titled "Wimoweh", a mishearing of the original song's chorus of "Uyimbube" ("You are a lion" in Zulu). 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.[9] 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".[9]

In 1961, two RCA Records producers, Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore, hired Juilliard-trained musician and lyricist George David Weiss to arrange a Doo-wop and Rhythm & blues cover of "Wimoweh" for the B-side of a 45-rpm single called "Tina", sung by group The Tokens. Weiss wrote the English lines "In the jungle, the mighty jungle, The lion sleeps tonight ..." and "Hush, my darling, don't fear, my darling ..."[citation needed]

Weiss also brought in soprano Anita Darian to reprise Yma Sumac's version, before, during and after the soprano saxophone solo.[10] "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" was issued by RCA in 1961, and it rocketed to number one on the Billboard Hot 100. Weiss's 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.[citation needed]

Copyright issues[edit]

Social historian Ronald D. Cohen writes, "Howie Richmond copyrighted many songs originally in the public domain but now slightly revised to satisfy Decca and also to reap profits."[11] 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.[2]

Although Linda was listed as a performer on the record itself, the Weavers thought they 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.[2] In the 1950s, after Linda's authorship was made clear, Seeger sent Linda $1000. Seeger also said he 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.[2]

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, telling Linda's story while incidentally exposing the workings of the multi-million dollar corporate music publishing industry.[12] In 2003 a CGI animation was released with Pat & Stan singing "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." It marked the two's debut appearance and was the pilot episode to ITV's shorts and the TV series sketch of the same name.

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.[13] 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.[14][15]

The copyright issues were updated in the 2018 TV movie, "Remastered: The Lion's Share".[16]

In 2012, "Mbube" fell into the public domain, owing to the copyright law of South Africa. "The Lion Sleeps Tonight", however, is still in copyright.

Selected list of recorded versions[edit]

Single by Solomon Linda's Original Evening Birds
B-side"Ngi Hambiki"
Recordedc. 1939
StudioGallo Recording Studios
LabelGallo Record Company
Mbube (Audio) on YouTube

The song has been recorded by numerous artists, and is a standard that has become a part of popular culture.



"The Lion Sleeps Tonight"[edit]

"The Lion Sleeps Tonight"
Single by Robert John
from the album Robert John
ReleasedDecember 1971
Producer(s)Hank Medress and Dave Appell
Robert John singles chronology
"When the Party Is Over"
"The Lion Sleeps Tonight"
"The Lion Sleeps Tonight"
Single by Tight Fit
from the album Tight Fit
B-side"Rhythm, Movement And Throbbing"
ReleasedJanuary 1982
Producer(s)Tim Friese-Greene[22]
Tight Fit singles chronology
"Back to the Sixties Part II"
"The Lion Sleeps Tonight"
"Fantasy Island"

Charted singles[edit]

The Tokens[edit]

Robert John[edit]

Tight Fit[edit]


See also[edit]


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External links[edit]