"The Lion Sleeps Tonight", also known as "Wimba Way" or "Awimbawe" or "Wimoweh" (and originally as "Mbube"), is a song written and recorded by Solomon Lindaoriginally with the Evening Birds (Song by Solomon Linda originally titled just "Mbube"),[1] for the South African Gallo Record Company in 1939. Originally composed only in Zulu, it was adapted and covered internationally by many 1950s pop and folk revival artists, including the Weavers, Jimmy Dorsey, Yma Sumac, Miriam Makeba, andthe Kingston Trio. In 1961 it became a number one hit in the U.S. as adapted in English by the doo-wop group The Tokens. It went on to earn at least US$15 million in royalties from covers and film licensing.

In the mid-nineties, it became a pop "supernova" (in the words of South African writer Rian Malan) when licensed to Walt Disney for use in the film The Lion King, its spin-off TV series and live musical, prompting a lawsuit in 2004 on behalf of the impoverished descendants of Solomon Linda.

Contents Edit


  • 1 History
  • 2 Copyright issues
  • 3 Selected list of recorded versions
    • 3.1 "Mbube"
    • 3.2 "Wimoweh"
    • 3.3 "The Lion Sleeps Tonight"
  • 4 Charted singles
    • 4.1 The Tokens
    • 4.2 Robert John
    • 4.3 Tight Fit
  • 5 References
  • 6 External links

History[edit] Edit

Two different words have been used in Zulu to mean "lion": ngonyama and mbube. One lively Zulu warrior chant likening a leader to a lion (ngonyama) dates at least to 1888, as recorded by Scouting founder Robert Baden-Powell while in the area and published in his Scouting for Boys (1908).[2][3] In the handbook, Baden-Powell prescribed the chant as "The Scout's Chorus," a glee call for Scouts. It included a high-pitched solo call proclaiming "He is a lion!" and a low, rhythmic choral response of "Yes! he is better than that; he is a hippopotamus!"

From Baden-Powell's Scouting for Boys (1908). The high leader-call is "He is a lion (eengonyama)!" followed by the low, rhythmic choral response, "Yes(ya-boh)! he is better than that; he is a hippopotamus (invooboo)!"

What Baden-Powell heard was probably originally a war marching-chant. In the liner notes to one of his recordings, Pete Seeger gave his interpretation of the song, which he believed to be traditional (although the song's author Solomon Linda is a credited performer on the album), as an instance of a "sleeping-king" folk motif about Shaka, Warrior King of the Zulus, along the lines of the mythical European sleeping king in the mountain: Shaka the Lion, who heroically resisted the armies of the European colonizers, is supposed not to be dead but only sleeping and will one day awaken and return to lead his oppressed people to freedom. Baden-Powell, involved in the British suppression of the uSuthu clan of Shaka Zulu's grandnephew Dunizulu, was rumored to have confiscated Dinizulu's warrior necklace after his capture, and later parceled the necklace's beads out to his Boy Scout Wood Badge training graduates to wear around their own necks.[4]

"Mbube" (Zulu: lion) was written in the 1920s by Solomon Linda, a South African singer of Zulu origin, who worked for the Gallo Record Company as a cleaner and record packer, and who performed with a choir, The Evening Birds, where, according to South African journalist Rian Malan:

Linda's improvised melody was wordless; no English words occur in the recording. Issued by Gallo as a 78 recording in 1939 and marketed to black audiences,[5] "Mbube" became a hit and Linda a star throughoutSouth Africa. By 1948, the song had sold about 100,000 copies in Africa and among black South African immigrants in Great Britain and had lent its name to a style of African a cappella music that evolved intoisicathamiya (also called mbube), popularized by Ladysmith Black Mambazo.[6]

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.[7][8] 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 as a 78 single entitled "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. It reached Billboard's top ten and became a staple of The Weavers' live repertoire. It achieved mass exposure (without orchestra) in their best-selling The Weavers at Carnegie Hall LP album, recorded in 1955 and issued in 1957, and was covered extensively by other folk revival groups, such as The Kingston Trio.

University of Texas folklorist, Veit Erlmann, however, argues that the song's meaning is more literal than tribal historical, and refers to an incident in Linda's own youth when he actually killed a lion cub.[9] Both analyses may have some truth, even accepting the fact that the call-response was already a longstanding Zulu war ritual.

In 1961, two RCA producers, Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore, engaged Juilliard-trained musician and lyricist George David Weiss[10] to fashion an arrangement for a planned new pop music cover of "Wimoweh", intended as the B-side of a 45-rpm single called "Tina" by the teenage doo-wop group The Tokens. Weiss wrote English lyrics:

In the jungle, the mighty jungle
The lion sleeps tonight... and Hush, my darling, don't fear, my darling, etc.

He also brought in the soprano voice of opera singer Anita Darian to vocalize (reprising Yma Sumac) before, during and after the saxophone solo, her eerie descant sounding almost like another instrument.[8] The Tokens, who loved The Weavers' version of the song and had used it to audition for Hugo and Luigi at RCA, were appalled and were initially reluctant to sing the new arrangement. But ultimately, they allowed themselves to be persuaded. Issued by RCA in 1961, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" rocketed to number one[8] on the Billboard Hot 100. The publishers of this recording, Abilene Music (owned by Weiss), listed one "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), thus permitting TRO/Folkways a share of the author's half of the royalty earnings.[11] A cover of the Weavers' version by Scots singer Karl Denver and his group likewise reached the charts in the United Kingdom in 1962. The song continued to be extremely popular and subsequent cover versions were more or less continuous.

Copyright issues[edit] Edit

For his performance of "Mbube", Solomon Linda was paid a small fee. Gallo Records of South Africa reaped all the royalties of the record sales in South Africa and Great Britain. The Weavers' music publisher was TRO/Folkways Publishing, one of the many subsidiaries and entities (and/or aliases) created by TRO/The Richmond Organization, founded in the late 1940s by former press agent, Howard S. ("Howie") Richmond, later the music publisher for Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, and other big names.[12] Sharing in the ownership of World Wide Music (later, Folkways Publishing) were The Weavers' managers Harold Leventhal and Pete Kameron.[13] Authorship of the song on The Weavers' 1951 recording was credited exclusively to the pseudonymous "Paul Campbell", a fictitious entity used by Howie Richmond, Harold Leventhal, and Pete Kameron to claim authorship of songs whose copyright was in question. Copyright law allows for and encourages the copyrighting of distinctive new interpretations of traditional songs as distinct from public domainsongs by known authors whose copyright has expired.

The claim that India's national anthem was an obscure ditty may be in doubt, as India's national anthem Jana Gana Mana is directly attributed to Rabindranath Tagore.

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 the profits."[14] Canadian writer Mark Steyn, on the other hand, attributes the invention of the pseudonym "Paul Campbell" to Pete Seeger.[15] At the same time, Steyn also acknowledges, however, that this was a longstanding Tin Pan Alley practice. Rian Malan contends that it was a practice Howie Richmond and his Tin Pan Alley associates, who included partner Al Brackman and Weavers' managers Pete Kameron (to whom Richmond had accorded half of TRO/Folkways' publishing rights) and former song plugger Harold Leventhal, were particularly adept in. 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]

Pete Seeger expressed concerns about the copyright laws associated with the song. Folkways Records founder Moe Asch frequently voiced the belief that traditional songs could not and should not be copyrighted at all.[16] Although Linda's name was listed as a performer on the record, The Weavers assumed that the song was traditional. The Weavers' managers and publisher and their attorneys, however, knew otherwise, because they were contacted by and reached an agreement with Eric Gallo of South Africa. They attempted to maintain, however, that South African copyrights were not valid because South Africa was not a signatory to U.S. copyright law and were hence "fair game."[1] As early as the 1950s, when Linda's authorship was made clear, Seeger sent him a donation of one thousand dollars and instructed TRO/Folkways to henceforth donate his (Seeger's) share of authors' earnings. The folksinger, however, who was not a businessman, trusted his publisher's word of honor and neglected or was unable to see to it that these instructions were carried out.[1] In fact, TRO/Folkways crafted an agreement with Gallo Records giving Gallo distribution rights to the song in South Africa and Rhodesia while TRO reserved the rights to royalties earned elsewhere.

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 movie The Lion King alone. The piece prompted filmmaker François Verster to create the Emmy-winning documentary A Lion's Trail (2002) that told Linda's story while incidentally exposing the workings of the multi-million dollar corporate music publishing industry.[17] Interviewed in the documentary, Pete Seeger publicly expressed regret at not having asked TRO/Folkways (The Richmond Organization) to persuade Linda to sign a contract, explaining: “The big mistake I made was not making sure that my publisher signed a regular songwriters’ contract with Linda. My publisher simply sent Linda some money and copyrighted The Weavers’ arrangement here and sent The Weavers some money.”[18]

In July 2004, as a result of the publicity generated by Malan's Rolling Stone article and the subsequent filmed documentary, the song became the subject of a lawsuit between Solomon Linda's estate and Disney. Brought by the firm of South African copyright lawyer Owen Dean, the suit asserted that under the terms of the Imperial Copyright Act, in force in Britain, South Africa, and the Commonwealth Countries during the life of Solomon Linda, ownership of "Mbube" reverted to Linda's heirs 25 years after his death, thereby revoking all existing deals and requiring anyone using Linda's music in Commonwealth territories to negotiate new agreements with his estate. Dean stated that Linda's heirs had received less than one percent of the royalties due him from Abilene Music Publishers (and before them TRO/Folkways) and 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.[19] 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.[20][21]

Selected list of recorded versions[edit] Edit

"Mbube"[edit] Edit

  • 1939 Solomon Linda and The Evening Birds[22]
  • 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

"Wimoweh"[edit] Edit

  • 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 Trio: UK #4
  • 1962: Bert Kaempfert on That Happy Feeling
  • 1964: Chet Atkins
  • 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

"The Lion Sleeps Tonight"[edit] Edit

"The Lion Sleeps Tonight"
The Lion Sleeps Tonight
Single by Tight Fit
from the album Tight Fit
Released January 1982
Genre Pop
Length 3:18
Label Jive
Writer(s) Hugo Peretti

Luigi Creatore
George David Weiss
Albert Stanton
Solomon Linda

Producer(s) Tim Friese-Greene[23]
Certification Gold
Tight Fit singles chronology
"Back to the Sixties Part II"


"The Lion Sleeps Tonight"


"Fantasy Island"


  • 1961: The Tokens: US #1, UK #11
  • 1962: Henri Salvador (French language: "Le lion est mort ce soir", which translates into English as "The Lion Died Tonight") FR #1
  • 1965: The New Christy Minstrels
  • 1968: The Tremeloes, on Silence is Golden
  • 1971: Eric Donaldson
  • 1972: Robert John: US #3
  • 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 The Ambivalent Collection
  • 1979: The Stylistics
  • 1980: Passengers
  • 1982: Tight Fit: UK #1,[24] NL #1[25] This version has sold over a million copies in the UK.[26]
  • 1982: The Nylons
  • 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
  • 1990's: The Streetnix
  • 2001: Baha Men featuring Imani Coppola, sampled the chrous in the song "You All Dat" on Who Let the Dogs Out
  • 2001: Rockapella
  • 2001: Scallwags, on Punk Chartbusters
  • 2001: Straight no chaser
  • 2002: Mango Groove, on Eat A Mango
  • 2004: Daniel Küblböck
  • 2005: The Mavericks
  • 2009: Melo-M, on Around the World
  • 2010: Cool Down Cafe Feat Gerard Joling, on Goud
  • 2010: Voices Unlimited, on Africapella
  • 2010: Tony Teran, on The Song's Been Sung
  • 2015: The Eclectics: AUS #1

Charted singles[edit] Edit

The Tokens[edit] Edit

Chart (1961) Peak


US Billboard Top 100 Singles 1
US Billboard R&B Singles 7
Australia Kent Music Report 15
Belgian Ultratop 50 6
German Media Control Charts 23
U.K. Singles Charts 27

Robert John[edit] Edit

Chart (1972) Peak


US Billboard Top 100 Singles 3
US Billboard Adult Contemporary 6
Canadian RPM Top Tracks 15
Canadian RPM Adult Contemporary 17
German Singles Charts 40

Tight Fit[edit] Edit

Chart (1982) Peak


U.K. Singles Charts 1
Ö3 Austria Top 40 8
Belgian Ultratop 50 1
German Media Control Charts 3
Dutch Singles Charts 1
New Zealand Singles Charts 3
Swedish Sverigetopplistan Charts 17
Swiss Ultratop Charts 8