The Lion Sleeps Tonight

Just occasionally I find little gems of musical interest, and feel compelled to share them with you… I have what was once described as a “catholic” taste in music (note, small ‘c’… I don’t listen to Ave Maria over and over…) and I think it’s fair to say that this one is somewhat ‘off piste’.

This was recorded in 1939, as World War II broke out,  but “Mbube” (the Zulu word for Lion) was written in the 1920s by the delightfully names Solomon Linda. Solomon was a Zulu South African singer, who worked for the Gallo Record Company as a cleaner and record packer. He also sang performed part time with a choir, The Evening Birds, who form the backing vocals in this recording.

Many of you will recognise the song as the basis for ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight‘ recorded over the years by many artists, but made famous by The Weavers, and also by Ladysmith Black Mambazo. For his 1939 performance of ‘Mbube’ 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 record, through its subsequent incarnations went on to reap over US$15 million in royalties from covers and film licensing (think The Lion King…) However the sad fact remains that Linda received virtually nothing for his work and died in 1962 with $25 in his bank account.

A long and complex legal battle ensued. Linda’s heirs claimed that they had received less than one percent of the royalties due him from Abilene Music Publishers and that Disney owed $1.6 million in royalties for the use of ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight‘ in the film and musical stage productions. 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. That trust continues to do stirling work with Zulu musicians.

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