The Lion Sleeps Tonight

July 3, 2004

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Back during Napster’s golden age I got hooked on finding as many versions as possible of certain old songs. One was Ghost Riders. Another was The Lion Sleeps Tonight, which I discovered was actually an old South African song that became the pop hit I listened to on AM Radio when rock’n’roll (and I) was young. So it was interesting to run across an article in Bag and Baggage about Solomon Linda, the Zulu migrant worker who composed the song Mbube (lion) in Johannesburg in 1939 and recorded it with a group called the Evening Birds; and about how folk singer Pete Seeger came across the song in 1949 and performed it, calling it Wimoweh, from the Zulu “uyiMbube” meaning “he is a lion”; then done by the Tokens (the version I listened to as a youth) in 1961, who added the lyrics “in the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight”. After all these years, Linda’s heirs are suing Disney for royalties on account of using the song in Lion King.

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