Artist: The Tokens

The Lion Sleeps Tonight (Wimoweh) ~ The Tokens

the-tokens-2The Tokens are an American male doo-wop vocal group from Brooklyn, New York. They are best-known for their chart-topping 1961 single, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”

The group was formed in 1955 at Brooklyn’s Abraham Lincoln High School, and was known as the Linc-Tones. Originally featuring members Neil Sedaka, Hank Medress, Eddie Rabkin, and Cynthia Zolotin, Rabkin was replaced by Jay Siegel in 1956, and the band recorded its first single, “While I Dream” that same year. In 1957 Sedaka and Zolotin left the band, leaving only Jay and Hank, who would recruit two additional band members and record the single “Picture in my Wallet” as Darrell & the Oxfords. Finally establishing its most famous name and lineup, the band become known as The Tokens in 1960 after Jay and Hank recruited 13-year-old multi-instrumentalist and first tenor Mitch Margo and his baritone brother Phil Margo.

In early 1961, The Tokens released a single for Warwick Records entitled “Tonight I Fell In Love,” which went to #15 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and earned them an opportunity to appear on American Bandstand. The popularity that the band garnered as a result of this performance brought them new recording opportunities, culminating in their famous cover of Solomon Linda’s “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” for the Radio Corporation of America. Jay Siegel’s characteristic lead vocals helped the song rise to #1 on the Billboard charts, where it remained for three weeks.

The Lion Sleeps Tonight

“Mbube” (Zulu for “lion”) was first recorded by its writer, Solomon Linda, and his group, The Evening Birds, in 1939. Gallo Record Company paid Linda a single fee for the recording and no royalties. “Mbube” became a hit throughout South Africa and sold about 100,000 copies during the 1940s. The song became so popular that Mbube lent its name to a style of African a cappella music, though the style has since been mostly replaced by isicathamiya (a softer version).

Alan Lomax brought the song to the attention of Pete Seeger of the folk group The Weavers. It was on one of several records Lomax lent to Seeger. After having performed the song for at least a year in their concerts, in November, 1951, they recorded their version entitled “Wimoweh”, a mishearing of the original song’s chorus of ‘uyimbube’ (meaning “you’re a lion”). Pete Seeger had made some of his own additions to the melody. The song was credited exclusively to Paul Campbell.

Pete Seeger explains in one recording, “it refers to an old legend down there, [about] their last king, who was known as Chaka The Lion. Legend says, Chaka The Lion didn’t die when Europeans took over our country; he simply went to sleep, and he’ll wake up some day.” (See “Senzenina / Wimoweh” on Seeger’s With Voices Together We Sing (Live).)

It was published by Folkways. Their 1952 version, arranged by Gordon Jenkins, became a top-twenty hit in the U.S., and their live 1957 recording turned it into a folk music staple. This version was covered in 1959 by The Kingston Trio.

New lyrics to the song were written by George Weiss, Luigi Creatore, and Hugo Peretti, based very loosely upon the meaning of the original song. The Tokens’ 1961 cover of this version rose to number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and still receives fairly frequent replay on many American oldies radio stations.

The Lion Sleeps Tonight - Solomon Linda, George Weiss, Luigi Creatore, and Hugo Peretti

(A-wimoweh, a-wimoweh, a-wimoweh, a-wimoweh)
(A-wimoweh, a-wimoweh, a-wimoweh, a-wimoweh)

In the jungle, the mighty jungle
The lion sleeps tonight
In the jungle the quiet jungle
The lion sleeps tonight

Near the village the peaceful village
The lion sleeps tonight
Near the village the quiet village
The lion sleeps tonight

Hush my darling don’t fear my darling
The lion sleeps tonight
Hush my darling don’t fear my darling
The lion sleeps tonight

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  • Audio from the 1961 album, The Lion Sleeps Tonight:

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Purchase-Music The Lion Sleeps Tonight – $1.29

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