The Lion Sleeps Tonight

| March 5, 2007

The always-erudite and readable Mark Steyn traces the surprising and convoluted history of one of the best-known songs of the 20th century:

The third take almost collapsed at the outset as the unrehearsed musicians dithered and fished for the key, but once they started cooking, the song was glory bound. ‘Mbube’ wasn’t the most remarkable tune, but there was something terribly compelling about the underlying chant, a dense meshing of low male voices above which Solomon yodelled and howled for two exhilarating minutes, occasionally making it up as he went along. The third take was the great one, but it achieved immortality only in its dying seconds, 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..

That was in South Africa in 1939.  As for the ultimate release of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” in the US in 1961:

Back in New York, the Tokens did as they were told but didn’t care for it. “We were embarrassed,” said Phil Margo, “and tried to convince Hugo and Luigi not to release it. They said it would be a big record and it was going out.” It had an orchestra, a trio of Tokens doing the wimoweh-ing, Jay Siegal’s falsetto, an opera singer with a spare half-hour who came in and did a bit of contrapuntal ululating. The first time the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson heard it he had to pull off the road he was so overawed.

Read the whole story.  ..bruce..

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Category: Legal, Main

About the Author ()

Webster is Principal and Founder at Bruce F. Webster & Associates, as well as an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at Brigham Young University. He works with organizations to help them with troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan. He can be reached at, or you can follow him on Twitter as @bfwebster.

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  1. bhenderson says:

    Good story – I recall the late 80’s when Paul Simon released “Graceland”. I had no desire to ever own or listen to Paul Simon. Graceland was “bigger” than he was in so many ways. The heavy influx and augmentation of talented South African musicians created something new an unique. Sadly (as is the case with many things) too many people tried to copy this formula, never with the same magic from that.