The Disney animated movie “The Lion King” is a fixture of popular culture having generated millions of dollars in revenue for Disney since its 1994 release. It is however the controversy surrounding the origin and rights thus appertaining to its title song “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” that forms the subject of this blogpost.
In 1939, a Zulu entertainer called Solomon Linda recorded a song called “Mbube” (Zulu for Lion) which was a hit throughout Southern Arica selling nearly 100,000 copies. This song incorporated a Zulu war cry (“Uyimbube”) in its melody. Linda unfortunately assigned his worldwide copyright to his song to the Gallo Record Company for a consideration of 10 shillings. In 1950, the song came to the attention of Pete Seeger who transcribed it and made his own song that he called “Wimoweh”, which was later incorporated in “The Lion King” as “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”.