Can you “learn to just write?” Click the above banner to read about it!
So here we are! Almost halfway through our A to Z Challenge! I wonder who will be coming in to see us this time. Why it’s the Tokens! They were like my FIRST band crush! 😀 LOVED all that doo-wop harmony!
The Tokens are an American male doo-wop-style vocal group and record production company group from Brooklyn, New York. They are known best for their chart-topping 1961 single, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”
The group was formed in 1955 at Brooklyn’s Abraham Lincoln High School, and was known first as The Linc-Tones. Originally featuring members Neil Sedaka, Hank Medress, Eddie Rabkin, and Cynthia Zolotin, Rabkin was replaced by Jay Siegel in 1956, and the band recorded its first single, “While I Dream” that same year. In 1957 Sedaka and Zolotin left the band, leaving only Siegel and Medress, who would recruit two additional band members and record the single “Picture in My Wallet” as Darrell & the Oxfords. Finally establishing its most famous name and crew, the band became known as the Tokens in 1960 after they recruited the 13-year-old multi-instrumentalist and first tenor Mitch Margo and his baritone brother Phil Margo.
In early 1961, the Tokens released a single for Warwick Records titled “Tonight I Fell In Love,” which scored No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and earned the group an opportunity to perform on the television program American Bandstand. The popularity that the band garnered as a result of this performance brought it new recording opportunities, culminating in its cover of Solomon Linda’s “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” for RCA Victor Records. It reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, where it remained for three weeks. The same track peaked at No. 11 in the UK Singles Chart. Both “Tonight I Fell in Love” and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” sold more than 1 million copies, and were awarded gold discs.
Beginning in 1963, The Tokens also began serving as record producers for other artists, such as the Chiffons, Randy & the Rainbows and the Happenings. Their production company was called Bright Tunes and they also created their own record company, B.T. (Bright Tunes) Puppy Records.
Decades after not receiving any publishing credit for their specific original musical composition part of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”, the band began a lawsuit in order to regain some of these publishing rights. The case was dismissed due to the statute of limitations. To this day, the Tokens claim that some of the original musical composition of the 1961 song was created by them, even though they have not been awarded this status by their record company.
Their relationship as a group saw members rotating in and out frequently amidst creative differences and law suits.
“The Lion Sleeps Tonight” is a song written and recorded originally by Solomon Linda with the Evening Birds for the South African Gallo Record Company in 1939, under the title “Mbube”. Composed in Zulu, it was adapted and covered internationally by many 1950’s and ’60’s pop and folk revival artists, including the Weavers, Jimmy Dorsey, Yma Sumac, Miriam Makeba and the Kingston Trio. In 1961, it became a number one hit in the United States as adapted in English with the best-known version by the the Tokens. It went on to earn at least $15 million in royalties from cover versions and film licensing. The pop group Tight Fit had a number one hit in the UK with the song in 1982.
“Mbube” (Zulu for “lion”) was written in the 1920’s, by Solomon Linda, a South African singer of Zulu origin, who later worked for the Gallo Record Company in Johannesburg as a cleaner and record packer. He spent his weekends performing with the Evening Birds, a musical ensemble, and it was at Gallo Records, under the direction of producer Griffiths Motsieloa, that Linda and his fellow musicians recorded several songs including “Mbube,” which incorporated a call-response pattern common among many Sub-Saharan African ethnic groups, including the Zulu.
According to journalist Rian Malan: “Mbube” wasn’t the most remarkable tune, but there was something compelling about the underlying chant, a dense meshing of low male voices above which Solomon yodeled and howled for two exhilarating minutes, improvising occasionally. The third take was the best, achieving immortality 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.
Issued by Gallo as a 78-rpm record in 1939 (Lordy that was a long time ago!!!) and marketed to black audiences, “Mbube” became a hit and Linda a star throughout South Africa. By 1948, the song had sold over 100,000 copies in Africa and among black South African immigrants in Great Britain. Linda also lent its name to a style of African a cappella music that evolved into isicathamiya (also called mbube), popularized by Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
Picture Source: nytimes.com