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August 25, 2010

"The Lion Sleeps Tonight" — George David Weiss is dead

The great songwriter in 1961 ".... added the lyrics, 'In the jungle, the mighty jungle' to a popular, infectious melody to create the No. 1 Billboard hit "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" for the Tokens," wrote T. Rees Shapiro in today's Washington Post obituary.

Weiss died this past Monday at the age of 89.

Excerpts from the Post obituary follow.


The origin of his greatest success, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," was mired in controversy. The tune was originally composed in 1939 by Solomon Linda, who lived in a shanty in Soweto, a suburb of Johannesburg.

But in 1952, Linda sold the copyrights to a recording of his song -- which he called "Mbube," Zulu for lion — to a studio for 10 shillings, less than $1.

The song eventually captured the attention of Pete Seeger, who wrote out a rough transcription of the song's main lyrics, "uyimbube, uyimbube," as "wimoweh, wimoweh," and performed it with the Weavers.

Today, more than 150 variations of Linda's original song exist, and it has been featured in more than a dozen movies, including Disney's "The Lion King" (1994).

The song generated tens of millions of dollars in revenue, but when Linda died in 1962 at age 53, he was so poor his widow could not afford a headstone for his grave.

In 2004, Linda's family filed a suit against Abilene Music Inc., the publishing company that owned copyrights to "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." Two years later, Abilene agreed to pay the family the song's royalties retroactively from 1987 onward.

"This song has never died," Mr. Weiss once said of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." "I never thought of it as a song but rather a series of gimmicks thrown together. It just shows you — you can't second-guess the public."


Margalit Fox's obituary in yesterday's New York Times had a slightly different take on the origin of the blockbuster hit: "'The Lion Sleeps Tonight' (1961), based on a South African Zulu song first recorded in the 1930s, was given a reworked melody and new lyrics ('In the jungle, the might jungle/The lion sleep tonight') by Mr. Weiss, Mr. Peretti and Mr. Creatore."

"Their adaptation, which kept the refrain — 'Wimoweh, wimoweh' — popularized in a 1950s version by the Weavers, became a million-selling hit for the Tokens."

August 25, 2010 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


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RIP. :]

Posted by: Stace | Aug 26, 2010 11:11:00 AM

It is terrible tragedy that George David Weiss has passed away. You can help remember him by contributing to his memorial website at http://georgedavidweiss.people2remember.com/

Posted by: dyulyur | Aug 26, 2010 5:29:07 AM

Thanks for the obituary for George David Weiss, and the short history of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight". Much appreciated.

Posted by: antares | Aug 26, 2010 2:19:35 AM

What about Yma Sumac? Now, that was a blast ...

Posted by: Diana McLellan | Aug 25, 2010 5:38:23 PM

Cut down in the prime of life...

The amount of royalties from a hit song can be phenomenal.

Take the 1985 one-hit wonder by Katrina and the Waves, "Walking On Sunshine:"

2010 is the 25th anniversary of the release of "Walking On Sunshine" and a series of back-catalogue re-releases and a re-recorded version of the track are being released.[1] A free download of one of the tracks from Kimberley Rew's solo album 'Bible Of Bop' was given away in March 2010 from the bands website [2]
Royalties from airplay and advertisements of "Walking on Sunshine" has been extremely high. Katrina and the Waves kept the publishing rights and the royalties that typically go to the songwriter have been divided among the band members, though Katrina Leskanich was fired from the band in 1998. Estimates are that the song has earned $1 million per year for the ten years ending in 2010. According to a former employee of EMI, "Walking on Sunshine was the crown jewel in EMI's catalog," and that it was one of EMI's biggest earners from advertisers.


Posted by: 6.02*10^23 | Aug 25, 2010 5:26:16 PM

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