♫ The Lion Sleeps Tonight ♫

This is a redux from 2019, and what spurred it tonight was the next-to-the last painted door on my Saturday Surprise post earlier!  The minute I saw the lion, this song popped in and refused to leave my head!  For the record … my neighbor’s son, Tholfaqar, who I mentioned when I first posted this three years ago, has a car of his own now, and it isn’t the stereo that warns of his arrival, but the super-loud exhaust system!  He’s now 21 and is studying at Ohio State University to be a doctor!  We’re all so proud of him, despite the loud mufflers!


I was just trolling around through music files, rather in the mood for something old … something to transport me back to … wait … why on earth would I want to go back there???  A total aside … my neighbor’s son has just gotten his first car.  It’s actually a hand-me-down from his mom, but still … it’s his and he is so proud.  He keeps that thing so shiny it’ll put your eyes out on a sunny day.  And, I think he added some speakers to boost the sound of the radio, for you can hear him coming as soon as he turns the corner onto our street!  When he parks and cuts the engine, we all look at each other and say, “Tholfaqar’s home!”  He has really crappy taste in music, by the way, but … he’s only 18, so what can you expect?

So anyway, I was looking for an “Oldie but Goodie” tonight, when I came upon this, and I said, “Ooh ooh … THAT’S the one!!!!”

This song has an interesting history.  It started out as a hunting song originally sung in Zulu in what is now Swaziland, the original title was “Mbube,” which means lion.

This was popularized in the 1930s by South African singer Solomon Linda, who recorded it in 1939 with his group, The Evening Birds. Apparently they were a bold bunch, and got the idea from when they used to chase lions who were going after the cattle owned by their families.

Solomon Linda recorded the song in Johannesburg, South Africa after being discovered by a talent scout. The chanting was mostly improvised, but worked extraordinarily well. Released on the Gallo label, it became a huge hit across South Africa. Around 1948, Gallo sent a copy to Decca Records in the US, hoping to get it distributed there. Folk singer Pete Seeger got a hold of it and started working on an English version.

In the 1950s, Miriam Makeba recorded this with the Zulu lyrics, and Pete Seeger recorded it with his band, The Weavers (who dominated the charts with “Goodnight Irene”). The Weavers recorded the refrain of the song (no verses) and called it “Wimoweh.” Their version hit #15 on the US Best Sellers charts in 1952.

Now, the reason they called it Wimoweh is that Seeger thought they were saying “Wimoweh” on the original, and that’s what he wrote down and how it was recorded in English. They were actually saying “Uyimbube,” which means “You’re a Lion.” It was misheard for “Wimoweh” because when pronounced, Uyimbube sounds like: oo-yim-bweh-beh.  I still don’t see how Seeger got ‘Wimoweh’ out of that, but …

Hank Medress, Jay Siegel, and Phil and Mitch Margo, who made up The Tokens, had a Top 15 hit “Tonight I Fell in Love” in 1960, but didn’t have a record label in 1961. They auditioned for producers Hugo and Luigi (Peretti and Creatore) by singing “Wimoweh” to them. Hugh and Luigi were impressed by the performance but decided that the song needed new lyrics. With help from George Weiss, Hugo and Luigi rewrote the song, giving it the title “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” The Tokens thought this had been nothing more than an elaborate audition – “Who is gonna buy a song about a lion sleeping” was their general sentiment. They were so embarrassed with the new title and lyrics that they fought the release of the recording.  Imagine their surprise, then, when The Lion Sleeps Tonight started its climb to the #1 position, hitting the top of the charts in the Christmas holidays of 1961-62.

The success of The Lion Sleeps Tonight didn’t ensure long-term recording security for The Tokens as a singing group. They didn’t have a singing/recording contract, but they DID have a producing contract! After “Lion,” members of the group had producing success with the Chiffons (“He’s So Fine,” “One Fine Day,” “Sweet Talkin’ Guy”), the Happenings (“See You in September,” “My Mammy”) and Dawn (“Knock Three Times,” “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree”). In 1971, they produced a note-for-note remake of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by Robert John – with Jay, Hank, and Mitch singing backgrounds and Ellie Greenwich singing bass. The new version peaked at #3.

In the 1950s, Solomon Linda sold the rights to this song to Gallo Records of South Africa for 10 shillings (about $1.70), at a time when apartheid laws robbed blacks of negotiating rights.  Solomon Linda died in poverty from kidney disease in 1962 at age 53.  His three surviving daughters sued for royalty rights to this song in 1999 and won a settlement in the case six years later.

The Lion Sleeps Tonight
The Tokens

A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh
A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh
A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh
A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh

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

A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh
A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh
A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh
A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh

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

A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh
A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh
A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh
A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh

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

A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh
A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh
A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh
A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh, a-weema-weh

Songwriters: George David Weiss / Hugo E Peretti / Luigi Creatore / Solomon Linda
The Lion Sleeps Tonight lyrics © Concord Music Publishing LLC

20 thoughts on “♫ The Lion Sleeps Tonight ♫

  1. Hello Jill. Years ago back in the days of the first iPhones you could download apps to make your own clips of songs to use as ringtones. I used this song as my ring tone. These days I use Time Passages by Al Stewart. Thank you for another grand song and the information that goes with it. Hugs

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed it and that it was one you are familiar with! And now you know the title! Well, the girls kidnapped me today, said that I haven’t been out of the house in over a month and that I needed to get out. So, they took me to the bookstore where I splurged on two new books, and then to Fresh Market where I picked up some lovely fresh berries and peaches! By the time I got home, I was exhausted, dizzy and shaky, but I must admit I did enjoy getting out! I hope you are having a great weekend, as well! xx

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A real pop classic, and great to hear it again. There have been many covers since then but few match this. Whatever you do, avoid the one by Tight Fit which got to #1 here – it’s terrible! My favourite of recent years has been R.E.M’s version, which they recorded as an homage to this having borrowed the title and opening chords for their song ‘The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight.’ They then put it on the B-side of their single, which I thought was a classy touch.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ahhhh … I’m happy! I had a feeling you might hate this one! Did you listen to the version Ned linked to in his comment? That was something so different it took me a minute to recognize it! Okay, I won’t go in search of the cover by Tight Fit (whom I’ve never heard of)! But, I will go in search of R.E.M.’s, just to see what it’s like.

      Liked by 1 person

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