The song “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” is familiar to most, young and old, whether it was heard on pop radio in the ‘60s or as an integral part of the Lion King Soundtrack. Arguably, the most famous version is by a doo-wop group called The Tokens, but the song’s origins go back much further.
Originally recorded in 1939 as “Mbube” (which is Zulu for The Lion) by Solomon Linda and the Original Evening Birds, the song became a hit and was a major influence on African a capella singing. The song gained fame worldwide, with over 100 cover versions recorded, but the song’s composer didn’t exactly achieve fame and fortune. Mr. Linda sold the copyright to the song for what would be equal to 87 cents today and when he died at the age of 53, his widow didn’t have enough money to pay for a gravestone.
A Sad Story with a Somewhat Happy Ending
For an interesting read and to find out more about Mr. Linda’s story, check out this New York Times article on the evolution from “Mbube” to “Wimoweh.” It’s unfortunately not an uncommon story in the music biz, but an interesting piece of history nevertheless.
A Short List of Renditions
Solomon Linda and the Original Evening Birds – “Mbube” (1939)
Jimmy Dorsey – “Wimoweh” (1952)
Pete Seeger and The Weavers – “Wimoweh” (1957)
Miriam Makeba – “Mbube” (1960)
The Tokens – “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” (1961)
Tommy M think the Tokens version is pretty awesome, but is fascinated by the long history of this song.