The Lion Sleeps Tonight

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"The Lion Sleeps Tonight"
The Lion Sleeps Tonight by The Tokens single cover.jpg
Single by The Tokens
from the album The Lion Sleeps Tonight
Released17 November 1961
LabelRCA Victor
Producer(s)Hugo & Luigi
The Lion Sleeps Tonight (Wimoweh) (Audio) on YouTube
Audio sample

"The Lion Sleeps Tonight" is a song originally written and recorded by Solomon Linda[1] under the title "Mbube" 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 was adapted and covered internationally by many pop and folk revival artists in the 1950s and 1960s, including Henri Salvador, 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 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.


"Mbube" (Zulu for "lion") was written in the 1920s by Solomon Linda,[2] a South African Zulu singer, 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.[1]

Issued by Gallo as a 78-rpm phonograph record in 1939,[3] 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.[4]

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", 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.[5] 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".[5]

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 doo-wop 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 ..."

Weiss also brought in soprano Anita Darian to reprise Yma Sumac's version, before, during and after the soprano saxophone solo.[6] "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.

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 profits."[7] 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 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.[1] 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.[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 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.[8]

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.[9] 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.[10][11]

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

Viral success[edit]

In the mid to late 2000s, the song was used in a viral video with Pat and Stan. In the 2010s, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" began to be used online in meme videos in which someone is about to get hurt.[12]

Selected list of recorded versions[edit]

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"
The Lion Sleeps Tonight - Robert John.jpg
Single picture sleeve
Single by Robert John
from the album Robert John
ReleasedMay 1972
Producer(s)Hank Medress and Dave Appell
"The Lion Sleeps Tonight"
The Lion Sleeps Tonight by Tight Fit.jpg
Single picture sleeve
Single by Tight Fit
from the album Tight Fit
B-side"Rhythm, Movement And Throbbing"
ReleasedJanuary 1982
Producer(s)Tim Friese-Greene[14]
Tight Fit singles chronology
"Back to the Sixties Part II"
"The Lion Sleeps Tonight"
"Fantasy Island"

"The Lion Sleeps Tonight (Wimoweh)"[edit]

1997: Barbados (Swedish Dansband)

Charted singles[edit]

The Tokens[edit]

Robert John[edit]

Tight Fit[edit]

Chart (1982) Peak
Australia (Kent Music Report)[36] 11
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[37] 8
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[38] 1
Denmark (Tracklisten)[39] 1
Ireland (IRMA)[40] 1
Israel Singles Charts 7
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[41] 1
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[42] 3
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[43] 17
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[44] 8
UK Singles (OCC)[45] 1
West Germany (Official German Charts)[46] 3


  1. ^ a b c d e Malan, Rian (2000). "In the Jungle". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 29 May 2020.
  2. ^ Frith, Simon, Popular Music: critical concepts in media and cultural studies, Volume 4, London: Routledge, 2004. ISBN 978-0-415-33270-5. p. 271
  3. ^ Cad, Saint. "Top 10 Famous Songs With Unknown Originals". Retrieved 21 June 2013.
  4. ^ Frith, Simon (2004). Popular music: critical concepts in media and cultural studies, Volume 4. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-33270-5.
  5. ^ a b David Hutcheon, "The Story Behind the Song: The Lion Sleeps Tonight", Mojo '60s, #9, 2017, pp.18-19
  6. ^ "Show 18 — Blowin' in the Wind: Pop discovers folk music. [Part 1]". Pop Chronicles. UNT Digital Library. 18 May 1969. Retrieved 24 September 2010.
  7. ^ Cohen, Ronald D. (2002). Rainbow Quest: the Folk Music Revival and American Society. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press. p. 71.
  8. ^ "National Television Academy Presents 27th Annual News & Documentary Emmy Awards" (press release), 25 September 2006.
  9. ^ "3rd Ear Music Forum - Mbube - Mickey Mouse Under House Arrest in SAfrica?". Retrieved 29 March 2014.
  10. ^ Blair, David (30 October 2004). "Penniless singer's family sue Disney for Lion King royalties". The Daily Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group. Retrieved 1 July 2017.
  11. ^ "It's a Lawsuit, a Mighty Lawsuit". 25 October 2004. Retrieved 14 February 2007.
  12. ^ "Know Your Meme".
  13. ^ "The Lion Sleeps Tonight 1939 : Linda Solomon, The Evening Birds". Retrieved 29 March 2014.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 406. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  16. ^ Sedghi, Ami (4 November 2012). "UK's million-selling singles: the full list". The Guardian. Retrieved 4 November 2012.
  17. ^ "Tight Fit — Together — Almighty Records". Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  18. ^ " – The Tokens – The Lion Sleeps Tonight" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50. Retrieved 15 June 2018.
  19. ^ " – The Tokens – The Lion Sleeps Tonight" (in French). Ultratop 50. Retrieved 15 June 2018.
  20. ^ "flavour of new zealand - Lever hit parades". Retrieved 1 May 2019.
  21. ^ "Tokens: Artist Chart History". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 15 June 2018.
  22. ^ "The Tokens Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard. Retrieved 15 June 2018.
  23. ^ "The Tokens Chart History (Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs)". Billboard. Retrieved 15 June 2018.
  24. ^ " – The Tokens – The Lion Sleeps Tonight". GfK Entertainment Charts. Retrieved 15 June 2018. To see peak chart position, click "TITEL VON The Tokens"
  25. ^ [1][dead link]
  26. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970-1992. St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  27. ^ "Top RPM Singles: Issue 7602." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 25 November 2020.
  28. ^ "Top RPM Adult Contemporary: Issue 5318." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 25 November 2020.
  29. ^ "SA Charts 1965–March 1989". Retrieved 5 September 2018.
  30. ^ "Robert John Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard. Retrieved 25 November 2020.
  31. ^ "Robert John Chart History (Adult Contemporary)". Billboard. Retrieved 25 November 2020.
  32. ^ "Cash Box Top 100 3/18/72". Archived from the original on 23 October 2016. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  33. ^ " – Robert John – The Lion Sleeps Tonight". GfK Entertainment Charts. Retrieved 25 November 2020. To see peak chart position, click "TITEL VON Robert John"
  34. ^ "Top 100 Hits of 1972/Top 100 Songs of 1972". Archived from the original on 27 April 2017. Retrieved 1 December 2017.
  35. ^ "Cash Box YE Pop Singles - 1972". Archived from the original on 28 September 2018. Retrieved 1 May 2019.
  36. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 310. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  37. ^ " – Tight Fit – The Lion Sleeps Tonight" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40. Retrieved 25 November 2020.
  38. ^ " – Tight Fit – The Lion Sleeps Tonight" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50. Retrieved 25 November 2020.
  39. ^ " – Tight Fit – The Lion Sleeps Tonight". Tracklisten. Retrieved 25 November 2020.
  40. ^ "The Irish Charts – Search Results – Lion Sleeps Tonight". Irish Singles Chart. Retrieved 25 November 2020.
  41. ^ " – Tight Fit – The Lion Sleeps Tonight" (in Dutch). Single Top 100. Retrieved 25 November 2020.
  42. ^ " – Tight Fit – The Lion Sleeps Tonight". Top 40 Singles. Retrieved 25 November 2020.
  43. ^ " – Tight Fit – The Lion Sleeps Tonight". Singles Top 100. Retrieved 25 November 2020.
  44. ^ " – Tight Fit – The Lion Sleeps Tonight". Swiss Singles Chart. Retrieved 25 November 2020.
  45. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 25 November 2020.
  46. ^ " – Tight Fit – The Lion Sleeps Tonight". GfK Entertainment Charts. Retrieved 25 November 2020.

External links[edit]