"The Lion Sleeps Tonight", also known as "Wimoweh", "Wimba Way" or "Awimbawe", 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 1950's and 60's 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.
"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 the Evening Birds, a musical ensemble, 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," 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 recording 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 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. "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.
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
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
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
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"